It has been a ridiculous amount of time since Fruit Chan has had a film on this blog. “Dumplings” of course is a total classic of Asian Horror, but he has really been concentrating on Production rather than sitting behind the camera. So when this little horror/sci-fi came to my attention, I knew I was going to delve in without pause. Yep, the old “to-watch” pile has been usurped once again. Time to visit Hong Kong again my faithful readers..
In “The Midnight After” a disparate bunch of characters take the late night Light Bus from Mong Kok in Kowloon to Tai Po in the New Territories. Some point after passing through the Lion Rock Tunnel, everyone on board begins to notice that the roads are very empty indeed. Not only that, but no-one is answering their phone calls and the internet is up, but nothing is getting updated. The group arrive at their destination, to find themselves the only people in Tai Po. Slightly weirded out, they go their separate ways, but a mysterious phone call acts as a catalyst to bring the group back together at a restaurant the next morning. Not all of them make it to the first meeting, and then their numbers start to thin even further. Strange things happen regularly, and questions and clues constantly get raised, but very few are answered. So what exactly has happened to our motley crew?
If you really want the answer to all the questions posed in the film? It is probably best you don’t watch this film. Based (in concept at least) on a popular Web Novel called “Lost on a Red Mini Bus to Tai Po”, this one is more about the journey than the story itself. Think of it like a 2 hour version of LOST set in the New Town of Tai Po. But in some ways, it is a little more satisfying than it sounds, because what we really have here is a character piece, that is holding up a mirror to Hong Kong and its Natives. Some of this will fall a little flat possibly on non-locals ears, but their is enough visual craziness going on to compensate.
The large cast is a real mix of older staples (Suet Lam, Simon Yam and Kara Hui certainly give the strongest performances) with some newer faces (Janice Man, Tsui Tin-yau, Sam Lee and GC Goo Bi are all comfortable here) along with some fresher faces (Jan Curious, Melodee Mak). The large cast means that nearly everyone gets their moment in the sun, and n one character really takes over. If there is a lead of sorts, it is Wong Yau-Nam’s Chi, but actually I found him possibly the least interesting of all.
The set up is great. And the first hour sets up all kinds of strangeness and mysteries. Plus, if you have been to or live in Hong Kong (and specifically Tai Po) you will wonder how the hell the film-makers managed to get the local so quiet and eerie. Sure, this isn’t particularly original, but a empty and quiet Hong Kong is even more unsettling than seeing the streets of London and New York equally empty in “28 Days Later” or “Vanilla Sky”.
Then, about halfway through the movie, things get really really odd. The mysterious phone call is deciphered as Morse Code. In English. And is a couple of lines from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Which leads us to Jan Curious leading the surviving cast in a bizarre karaoke rendition of the song. Because Hong Konger’s “have no culture”. It is at this point you realise that this isn’t a film to be taken too seriously.
We then continue with the story, replete with flashbacks and hints and ideas and theories. None of which really come to any fruition. Take them as you wish though – extended metaphors, funny jokes, character moments. Just don’t expect answers.
The film trundles along at a good pace, only really stalling for me during the film’s most uncomfortable moment. One character has done a terrible thing, and the survivors enact vigilante justice. It is interesting, but is fairly uncomfortable, and just goes on a touch too long.
I loved this movie. Normally this sort of shaggy dog story would drive me insane, and I would feel cheated with the lack of any real wrap up. But this one is Highly Recommended. Imaginative and thought provoking, it is Hong Kong in a nutshell. Even if “Hong Kong doesn’t so sci-fi”, it certainly knows how to look at itself.