“Night Corridor” is a film which takes itself very seriously, striving for significance and desperately trying its best to convince the viewer of its intelligence and cunning. Unfortunately, although writer/director Julian Lee has created a moderately effective “Angel Heart”-style detective story, the film is far too pretentious and self-important to truly engage the viewer. Still, despite these failings, and a pace which tends to drag, “Night Corridor” is an atmospheric, above average film with admirable emotional and psychological depth, and which, coming in at just 78 minutes, has the good sense not to outstay its welcome.
The film begins in familiar fashion, as London based artist Sam (Daniel Wu, “Beyond our Ken”) is awoken by a phone call from his mother, telling him that his twin brother has had an accident and that he should return to his native Hong Kong as soon as possible. On arriving home, Sam discovers that his brother is actually dead, having suffered the odd fate of being mauled to death by monkeys. Deciding to investigate further, Sam soon finds himself trapped in a maze of dark secrets and sinister plots, not least of which is the fact that his twin had in fact assumed his identity and had been living under his name. At the heart of the web seems to be his brother’s apparent girlfriend (Coco Chiang, “New Police Story”) and a mysterious old librarian (played by veteran actor and martial arts star Eddy Ko, recently in “Explosive City”) who may be more than he seems.
Lee is obviously aiming for a Kafka-inspired sense of paranoia, giving every single character in the film a number of hidden motivations and skeletons in the closet. However, despite his best efforts, the plot is still rather predictable, and the film’s would-be metaphysical conclusion is clearly signposted from early on. This does tend to make the film feel slow in places, especially since Sam’s investigation is largely inspired by flashbacks and cryptic conversations, which serve only to needlessly obscure details which are already fairly obvious. Matters are not helped by Lee’s determination to throw in artistic and literary references, primarily Fuseli’s painting, ‘The Nightmare’, which the viewer is repeatedly shown. This could have been done in a far more subtle manner. As a result, the film comes across as somewhat self-important and pretentious.
“Night Corridor” deals with a number of disturbing themes, such as child abuse and repressed homosexuality, though thankfully these themes are approached in a fairly intelligent, realistic manner. The film does have a category III rating, probably due to the inclusion of these themes in the plot, though they are never shown graphically. Unfortunately, Lee does have a tendency to overdo the use of symbolism, and again relies too heavily on showing glimpses of paintings and blurred photographs. Although this admittedly gives the proceedings the feel of reflecting the mind of its confused protagonist, their overuse rapidly becomes a little tiresome and overly ponderous.
Fortunately, Lee turns out to be a better director than writer, and the film is very atmospheric, with the locations given a gothic look generally unseen in Hong Kong cinema. The film is mercifully devoid of the usual neon saturation, relying more upon shadows and odd camera angles to give a sense of menace and of impending doom. The production values are fairly good, which gives the film a polished feel reminiscent of expressionist European cinema rather than any of “Night Corridor’s” Eastern genre peers.
Despite the category III rating, there is very little in the way of action or visceral content, and when such scenes do occur, Lee seems determined to downplay the physical impact in favour of the psychological, an approach which sits well with the rest of the film, as well as being pleasingly subtle. However, this may prove a disappointment to those expecting shocks, and the inclusion of a few jolts would probably have helped with the film’s dull pacing.
The cast are all excellent, especially Daniel Wu, who lends his character a believable combination of confusion and simmering psychosis. It’s also nice to see an old genre star like Ko still capable of turning in a credible performance. And lastly, Coco Chiang is effectively sinister in her ambiguous role. The acting helps add further depth to the film, making it more effective as a low-key psychological thriller rather than the horror film the DVD box art seems to suggest.
Although too murky and far less intelligent than director Lee seems to think it is, “Night Corridor” is a worthwhile, if decidedly minor mystery. And the film’s brevity at least means that the viewer doesn’t feel too cheated even if the ponderous labyrinth becomes too wearisome to navigate.
Chi Chiu Lee (director) / Chi Chiu Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Coco Chiang …. The Girl
Kara Hui …. Sam’s Mother
Eddy Ko …. Father Chan
Feng Ku …. Mr. Luk
Daniel Wu …. Sam Yuen/Hung