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Original Title:
Tin shui wai dik ye yu mo

Hong Kong 2009


Ann Hui

Zhang Jingchu
Simon Yam
Amy Chum
Law Wai Keung
Yim Chau-wah
Audrey Chan
Ariel Chan

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Night and Fog

Story: Wong Hiu-ling is a mainland Chinese who is brought to Hong Kong by her husband Lee Sum (Simon Yam). The two are married and have two daughters (Audrey and Ariel Chan). Lee doesn't like that his wife works at a small restaurant but he himself is living by what money he gets from social welfare and he doesn't go out to look for a job. His unemployment divides the family and makes him depressive and irascible. Lee eventually beats up his wife more and more regularly until he directly threatens her life. After that Ling flees to a women's shelter with her children and rethinks her options. The social workers aren't really helpful and don't realize what situation she is in. She goes back to mainland china, but she isn't safe from Lee there either. He finds her and wants to bring her back to Hong Kong. Her parents and the police also want Ling to resolve her disputes with her husband and accept that her problems with Lee are absolutely normal for a married couple. However, Ling's situation actually endangers her life and that of her daughters.

Review: The story of "Night and Fog" is based on a real murder/suicide case in 2004 and draws a picture of Hong Kong, which is viewed by mainland Chinese as a city of hope, in a way that couldn't be more dismal and depressing. The drama that unfolds in the film is mainly carried by the two fantastic perfomances of the two main leads, but despite the emotional involvedness of the viewer the dull and hard to digest world presented here simply makes us wish for some more warmth. Female director Ann Hui ("The Postmodern Life of my Aunt") sketches a cold picture of an even more cold Hong Kong that you don't get to see so often. In itself this would be reason enough to recommend "Night and Fog", but the slow pacing and the not really reasonably structured narration can sometimes make this movie a trial of patience.

Another point why the movie can be so exhausting for the viewer is its adjacency to reality. The tragedy that befalls the characters is too closely taken out of real life and that's also no surprise as Ann Hui spared no effort to bring the events that surrounded the murder case to the screen as true to the actual events as possible. She has investigated the case and even done some interviews. There are also some locations to be found that are the same the real family was present at. Furthermore, the film has been shot with a HD-camera in appealing pictures, that also make the film look exceptionally real. The cold lighting of the interior sets does its share to create the impression that you are part of real life rather than being in a film. Therefore, things happening on screen seem even the more oppressing. Of course, Ann Hui deserves some praise for that, on the other hand she makes the viewer go to his limits of what's endurable.

Right from the start there is no doubt about what fate is lying ahead of Ling and her family. We are thrown into the movie by hearing of the deaths of the family members. After that we make a leap through time into the past and get to know the details that lead to the tragedy. But it doesn't stop there. Time borders are supassed on several occasions by leaping more back into Ling's past. Even though it's easy to keep track of evens and in what timeline we are in at all times, the time leaps are a bit random and don't let us make out any real structure in the script. A few supporting characters also don't get the time they would have deserved. Moreover, the complex narration with several narration levels seems somewhat unnecessary, too. There are also some scenes that could have been a little shorter, which would have made the movie more coherent as a whole.

Zhang Jingchu ("Overheard", "Jade Warrior") manages to give her role the necessary complexity. The decisions she makes often aren't the right ones and yet we can understand why she makes the mistakes she does and which ruin her life more and more. Her relationship with Lee gets more facets and she becomes more three-dimensional, also thanks to the flashbacks. Simon Yam ("Election", "Sparrow") embodies the husband whose initial passion soon exceeds its limits towards obsession and violence. At first, he seems quite sympathetic, but with time we learn about his true self until the whole monster that lurks inside him comes to the foreground. That's also where Ann Hui maybe overdoes things, because in a few scenes Lee in fact seems like a mad monster which takes away the substance of the more subtle monster at the beginning. However, Yam manages to bestow the necessary depth upon his character for most part so that we can despise Lee with good reasons.

Ann Hui also takes some time to focus on the relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Married Hong Kong men who take pleasure in spending their time with prostitutes on the mainland who in return hope to someday find a man that takes them to Hong Kong are even the starting point where problems arise for the director. Somehow, though, it seems as if she is using the true story too much as an instrument to get across her own message of the movie. The well-elaborated characters and the real emotions make "Night and Fog" an interesting drama, nonetheless. It is just working a little bit too close to truth and the real world, which made the film incredibly depressing for me. Among critics this movie may earn a lot of laudation and normally I would be one of the first to praise a tragic ending, but in "Night and Fog" there was a bit too much reality and too few film, which is why I'm making a small deduction concerning the overall score, even though only for personal reasons.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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