Hong Kong action films commonly have a strong moralistic streak, whether they are of the ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre typified by John Woo films such as “The Killer” or “Hard Boiled”, or the recent crop of angst laden thrillers like the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy. In such films, although the traditional lines between the good guys and bad guys are somewhat blurred, there is still a distinct sense of honour and righteousness imbuing their actions. It is somewhat refreshing therefore, to find a film like “The Longest Nite”, whose characters are almost completely free from virtue of any kind, be they on the side of the gangsters or the police.
This is a bleak, nihilistic and brutal thriller which pulls no punches and whose complex plot shows an intelligence that is both ruthless and vicious. The film was directed by Patrick Yau, who also gifted the genre with the excellent and off beat “The Odd One Dies”, and was produced by current genre favourite, the prolific Johnnie To (“Breaking News”, “Throwdown”). “The Longest Nite” was deservedly honoured at the 1998 Hong Kong Film Awards with nominations for best picture, director, screenplay and editing, with lead actors Tony Leung (“Hero” and “Infernal Affairs”) and Lau Ching-wan (“Running Out of Time”) both being recognised for their excellent performances. Although it failed to win any of these awards, the fact that such a violent, uncompromising film was even nominated at all should be an indication as to its quality.
With its myriad twists and turns, the plot of “The Longest Nite” rivals “The Usual Suspects” in terms of intricacy. The story is set in Macau, where two rival gangs are attempting to negotiate a truce and join forces before the impending return of another, legendary gang boss. This process is thrown into disarray when one of the gang leaders, Lung, learns that a contract has been taken out on his life, supposedly by Brother K, the other boss. Brother K denies this, and sends Sam (Tony Leung), a dirty cop who works for him, to investigate. Sam’s methods, which generally involve trying to beat the truth out of suspects, are going nowhere until a mysterious stranger (Lau Ching-wan) arrives in town, apparently holding the key to the whole affair. This sets off a series of increasingly violent events and it appears that there may be even more to the assassination plot than the simple killing of Lung.
The corrupt nature of the Macau police force seems to be a favourite topic of Hong Kong filmmakers, though this has rarely been so cynically embodied as it is in the character of Sam. As well as directing, Yau also wrote the script for “The Longest Nite” (he also wrote many of his other collaborations with To, including “PTU” and “Running on Karma”), and he imbues the whole film with a biting nihilism, creating a set of characters who are all viciously self motivated and for whom betrayal and violence are as natural as breathing.
The plot twists are quite unpredictable, and the tension gradually builds as the viewer is given often misleading hints as to where the story is going, rather than being force fed details via needless exposition. This does make the film a little bewildering at times, and although everything certainly comes together at the climax, some of the smaller narrative details may have been missed. Yau’s direction is excellent, keeping things moving along at a fast pace and never allowing things to get boring. There are few needless scenes or shots, and everything is kept tight and lean. Yau skillfully manages to avoid most of the cliché of the genre, and the film has the feel of a noir thriller rather than a simple police/triad actioner.
The film itself is very dark, and the city is shot more like a shadowy maze than the usual garish mass of neon, which makes the proceedings very atmospheric. There is a great deal of violence, and in keeping with the plot, this is generally in the form of torture and beatings rather than flashy gunplay. The film certainly pushes the boundaries of the IIB rating, especially with its often excessively brutal treatment of its female characters. The only slight fault with the film comes with its final sequence, which does lapses somewhat into melodrama, and the final shootout feels like it belongs in a different film. Although in narrative terms it provides a very satisfying conclusion, visually this scene would have been far better without the over-obvious use of slow motion.
“The Longest Nite” is a classic Hong Kong thriller, the likes of which has been sorely missing in recent years. A cunning film that is as cerebral as it is exciting and violent, this is a film all fans of Asian cinema should see.
Patrick Yau (director) / Patrick Yau, Kam-Yuen Szeto (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Leung Chiu Wai …. Sam
Ching Wan Lau …. Tony
Maggie Siu …. Maggie
Fong Lung …. Mr. Lung