Heroes of the East

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    The Longest Nite (1998: Patrick Yau Tat-chi: Hong Kong)

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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    The Longest Nite (1998: Patrick Yau Tat-chi: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Thu Jan 28, 2016 4:11 pm

    Who is the dead body at my house?

    Analogous to Expect The Unexpected (1998) and The Odd One Dies (1998) Patrick Yau is the nominal director but did not do the vast majority of directing for this movie (Johnnie To has stated he directed about half before To ultimately took over; I do not know how much To reshot).  It is interesting to see reviews of its time praising Yau, though unfortunately he directed only one more film The Losers Club in 2001. Yau was even nominated for Best Director for the Hong Kong Film Awards.  He has no film credits since though he has directed some Mainland TV according to To.  One wonders how much emotionally draining it was being pulled from three productions.  Hindsight is 20/20 and you can see many of Johnnie Tos trademarks and auteuristic touches here that were not as recognizable then, especially when many thought it was done by another director.

    The Chinese title of this film is 暗花 which translates to dark flower(s) which means the bounty offered (the successful hit price.)  The noirish The Longest Nite takes place in Macao* and covers a maze and a morass of one day and night (reminding me a little of Run All Night (2015)) of a hit man Tony (Lau Ching-wan: Expect the Unexpected, Mad Detective) and a cop Sam (Tony Leung Chiu-wai: Happy Together).  Johnnie To brings out a quite familiar thematic element of the Doppelganger (and Lam Suet) though uses it to an extreme here.  The narration** starts by explaining that there are two factions led by Mr. K and Lung in Macau mirroring the real life 14 K and Shui Fong triads.  Sam is a corrupt cop whose allegiance is to Mr. K. but is in the unenviable position of trying to prevent a 5 Million dollar hit on Mr. Lung.  While this might seem advantageous to Sam there is a puppet master, a true Godfather, in Mr. Hung, who seems to be the only one who is actually in charge (it reminds me of that great Bela Lugosi quote in Glen or Glenda Pull the string) though he has not been in Macau in over a decade.

    Tony (Lau Ching-wan) is a phlegmatic and sometimes suicidal hired hitman with a bald head, a tattoo and calm demeanor.  He is so enigmatic that he sometimes seems more like an archetype than an actual human analogous to a Jef Costello of Le samouraï without the sartorial skill.  He comes off not as evil as Sam, but there are no heroes here.  Lau Ching-wans acting performance is superb though.  Tony clashes pretty quickly with Sam because of Tonys aura and is given a suggestion to get out of town.  Of course we know Tony will not follow this sagacious advice.  But are there ulterior motives behind Tony being there?  And what role will Sam play in the scheme of things?

    I am avoiding going into too much detail with the plot, but one might want to avoid the rest, except for the paragraph on the DVD discussion, if one has not seen this as there might be a couple of spoilers ahead.

    It is amazing how much information you might miss when only watching it one time.  Subsequent rewatches make you realize there are clues planted throughout, but one has to be careful of Tos magician like misdirection.  So much is given away with the phone calls of Tony early on but we might be paying more attention to the beatings from Sam.  A casino worker throwing up was another example of carefully planned misdirection.  At first you see an overabundance of coincidences, but some of them are actually carefully planned, though it does make a few seemed overly lucky like Sam finding Maggie so quickly.

    There are brilliant moments throughout.  I loved the look ma no hands driving scene. One of the better scenes of intimidation deals with Tony on an elevator when he politely answers a question Did you come here to cause trouble? with a serene yes.  Would you have entered the lift with him?  Contrast this with Tommy DeVitos What do you mean I'm funny?  The cinematography is superlative with the highlights being the early moment in the dinner, another brilliant use of light with the jail scene and floating dust and of course the aforementioned mirror scene inspired by Orson Welles.  This film might have even looked better in black-and-white.

    There are allusions to other films throughout both past and future.  According to Johnnie To the theme was inspired by the score in Midnight Express (1978). The jail scene reminds me and many other writers of Steve McQueen bouncing the ball in The Great Escape.** The warehouse scene is a homage to The Lady From Shanghai and was used earlier in Enter the Dragon and would later be used in another superb variation in Tos Mad Detective.  The torture scenes would take new heights in his Election series though the digit manipulation is reminiscent of The Odd One Dies and prolonged abuse like the slapping scene in PTU.

    Because of the doleful nature of this and several other Milkway films To decided to be a little lighter with both The Mission and Running Out of Time.  But I find it interesting to note that this film was the highest grossing Milkway film until Running Out of Time the following year. This is a brilliant modern-day noir with a byzantine plot that may be difficult to understand especially if you are not paying enough attention.  While this did not have Tos name on it, his touch is.  Like most of his earlier films I feel this is vastly underrated and is a good watch for any fans of crime movies though you might have to watch it twice.  You probably should watch it at least twice.      

    I watched this with a non-anamorphic letterbox Universe Laser R0/NTSC DVD.  It is OOP.  It has a Cantonese (preferred) and Mandarin audios.  It has two Chinese subtitles (Traditional and Simplified) and an English one.  For extras it has Stars Files text (Chinese, English), a trailer, footage of the premiere (2m21s; Cantonese with no subtitles), Making of video (10m01s; Cantonese with no subtitles), NG Footage (2m58s; these are outtakes, no dialogue) and a Press Conference (6m16s; no subs though you can see Johnnie To buzz cut Lau Ching-wans hair). While the video is decent a better release of this in either DVD and/or BD would be quite welcomed with translated extras and hopefully new ones.  I do wonder why Criterion has not done a Johnnie To release.

    * According to Stephen Teo in his wonderful book Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Films (2007), To had thought about shooting this movie in Cuba then in Buenos Aires but settled for Macau for both budget reasons and in retaining a Latin American influenced setting.  It is also important to note that Macau would not be handed over to China until 1999 in which Hong Kong was handed over the year before this films release.  

    ** There was a preview version that did not have the initial narration, but was included afterwards because the audience found the plot confusing.  Narration is relatively rare in Johnnie Tos films with some exceptions like this and Fulltime Killer.

    *** To is brilliant at filming little scenes of ennui analogous to Michelangelo Antonioni and passing time like the paper football match in The Mission.  Look at how many films he can incorporate a cooking scene including Breaking News or Vengeance.  

    Keywords: Adidas, Cathay Pacific, Coca-Cola, decapitation, flashforward, head-in-a-duffel-bag, headless corpse, nudity, patsy, slow-motion, triad, warehouse.

    Notes:
    It looks like the General Post Office building in one of the earlier shots of a clock tower in Macau.  Here is an image.
    There is a muzac version of Gonna Fly Now (Rocky theme song).
    Spoiler: sometimes I found it hard not to think of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

    Sources:
    Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Films (2007) by Stephen Teo: This is best source on the film that I have read.  There are so many useful facts on this film, though I did find some facts from other sources listed below.
    Planet Hong Kong 2nd Edition (2011) by David Bordwell
    Interview: Interview Johnnie To Cinemasie (Oct. 2004)
    Shui Fong triad (wiki)
    14 K triad (wiki)
    Review: Love HK Film Review (Kozo 1998)

    Other Johnnie To/Milkyway reviews from me:
    Drug War (2013: Johnnie To: China/Hong Kong)
    The Mission (1999: Johnnie To: Hong Kong)
    The Odd One Dies (1997: Patrick Yau Tat-chi: Hong Kong)
    Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 (1997: Wai Ka-fai: Hong Kong)
    Triangle (2007: Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To: Hong Kong)

      Current date/time is Tue Aug 22, 2017 2:12 am