Fruit Chan makes an absolutely wild comeback with this quirky black comedy.
Back in the 1990s, aside from mainstream heroes like John Woo and Tsui Hark and arthouse darling Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong cinema had another treasure in the form of indie maverick Fruit Chan. He became popular after his third film Made In Hong Kong garnered critical acclaim. He then proceeded to make a string of fine films like Little Cheung, Durian Durian and my personal favourite, The Longest Summer.
After a decade of silence, the maverick is back with a bang with his latest feature film, The Midnight After. Adapted from a bestselling novel, Lost On A Red Minibus To Tai Po, one can describe the film in just two words – wild and insane – in the best possible way.
Why is it wild? Because it is one of those rare cases where a supposedly “major” film with big names attached to it is made with disregard for movie-making rules.
And why is it insane? Because such disregard for the rules can only result in an entertaining watch.
To begin with, it’s an ensemble piece with 17 characters, all of them on a mini bus headed towards Tai Po in the early hours of the morning.
The biggest name in the cast is Simon Yam, who plays Uncle Fat, but the film’s leading role is played by Wong You Nam, one half of the Canto-pop duo Shine. He plays a character named Chi who boards the bus after his girlfriend cancels their date.
Representing a cross-section of people in Hong Kong, these characters face a life-changing event when they discover that they seem to be the only people left in the city, maybe even on Earth.
Each of the 17 characters then starts to speculate what has happened.
And it’s in this uncertainty that the film’s many joys can be found, as director Chan picks up on many of these and runs away with them as far as he possibly can. One minute, the movie is funny, the next it is mildly scary and then shockingly brutal and then back to hilarious slapstick.
Strange and wondrous sights are everywhere, from kids turning into stone (and shattering to pieces) to a ghastly image of necrophilia.
And when a film has a disturbing yet somehow comic interlude involving very angry women stabbing the private parts of a rapist, you know that you’re in rarely explored territory.
Alongside all this, the film also manages to incorporate an even better application of David Bowie’s Space Oddity than its already excellent use in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty in a truly strange musical sequence that has the character dressed up in a spacesuit!
Unfortunately Chan may have overindulged himself because at slightly more than two hours, the film does lag towards the end and the whole thing never really ties itself up neatly.
But then again, this whole uncertainty and open-endedness may have been intentional to reflect what the film seems to be really about – the many anxieties that the people of Hong Kong have been experiencing ever since the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Whichever way you look at it though, this is still a movie where the parts are greater than its sum. But what glorious parts! And for once, that’s actually more than enough.