'Nightfall' Ramps Up the Tension and Subverts Expectations

A tortured detective hunts for a killer in this twisted modern noir tale.


Director: Chow Hin Yeung
Cast: Nick Cheung, Simon Yam, Janice Man, Kay Tse
Distributor: Well Go USA
Rated: NR
Release date: 2013-05-21

Chow Hin Yeung’s thriller Nightfall, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, begins with a moment of extreme violence, so brutal as to be legitimately uncomfortable to watch. This highly stylized pre-credits scene informs the rest of the film, imbuing the remainder with a sinister undertone, with the potential for fierce explosions of violence.

What follows in Nightfall, Yeung’s follow up to his crime drama Murderer, is a long, gradual build, a continual ramping up of tension and subversion of expectations. As you watch you can’t help but mark similarities between other recent entries into the Asian cinema market. This is the thematic and tonal younger cousin of Kim Ji-woon’s A Bittersweet Life, and the clever, well wrought shift in perspective calls to mind Wong Ching-po’s Revenge: A Love Story. Still, despite obvious points of comparison, Nightfall stands on its own as a gritty modern noir.

Eugene Wang (Nick Cheung, The Stool Pigeon), the key player in the earlier prison bathroom assault, is released from incarceration after 20 years for a rape and murder he claims he didn’t commit. George Lam (Simon Yam, Ip Man, Election) is a detective, haunted, as everyone in Nightfall is by a tragic back-story. He’s also a drunk, and super protective father, despite being a workaholic and rarely around to supervise his young daughter.

When Han Tsui (Michael Wong, Once a Thief), a celebrated composer and Hong Kong celebrity and creepy father, turns up murdered in a particularly vicious manner, the crime proves to be a tightly wound mystery. As the layers are peeled back one by one, unveiling new truths, the chaos brings Wang, Lam, and Tsui’s teenage daughter Zoe (Janice Man), a piano prodigy, into the same orbit.

Nothing in Nightfall is as it initially appears on the surface, no one is who you think, and what you initially anticipate, invariably turns out to be false. Misdirection is the order of the day, and as the story progresses, as the quiet, deliberate pace unfolds, the script peels back layers of the mystery, lies, obsession, and revenge. This isn’t as much about the "who" as it is about the "why".

Though there are alterations in point of view that, for lack of a better word, qualify as twists, the script, from director Yeung and To Chi-long, takes its time setting the stage, laying the groundwork for the turns so that each is earned and believable. In a day and age where jagged twist endings are almost a prerequisite, it’s nice to see one that is actually the result of good script writing instead of a filmmaker trying to wow an audience with this crazy thing.

While it won’t blow your mind, and is far from a great film, Nightfall is a strong, entertaining watch. It's punctuated with some nice action pieces, including a badass fight contained in a glass-bottomed gondola car. Beautifully filmed, with a dreamy classical score that includes the likes of Chopin, and a stilted chess metaphor, the whole package comes across as a bit smug and self-important, and it so desperately wants to be something more significant than a modern Hong Kong crime story. You get the feeling that the filmmakers don’t think that is a worthy enough endeavor.

The performances are fine, but nothing spectacular. Cheung is strong as the tormented mute parolee; he may be out for revenge, but he also attempting to atone for his past, his motivations are initially unclear. At this point in the game Yam can play this character in his sleep, and though he isn’t bad, his turn comes across as pedestrian and par for the course.

The picture on the new Blu-ray from Well Go USA looks crisp and clean, and is a nice delivery system for Ardy Lam’s (Once Upon a Time in China) sweeping cinematography. He films the brightly colored chaos of urban Hong Kong in a way that makes the city look unreal, and he lush rural exteriors pop on screen. The disc also comes with a trailer, though the only other bonus is a making of feature.

A fairly standard entry into this realm, the extra does clock in at more than 47 minutes, so it goes into great depth. Like the movie, you won’t be blown away, but it is a solid offering, and interesting enough to listen to the actors talk about their motivations and how they approached various aspects of filming Nightfall.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.