Friday, November 7, 2014

Reel Asian Film Festival Review - The Midnight After

A red minibus leaves the Monkok area headed to Taipo the minute its sixteen passenger seats are full.
Once it exits the tunnel to Taipo there are no other vehicles or people around. Four students are the first off and head to their dorm, one of their group feeling ill the moment they set for on the ground. The others get to the next stop but no one wants to leave as they all realize at about the same time that something strange is going on. No one is receiving any of their phone calls, the streets are completely barren, static is on the radio and even the police don't answer a 999 call. The group exchange numbers and split up in Taipo but after they all get a mysterious screeching phone call at the same time they agree to meet at a restaurant the next day.

Director Fruit Chan's The Midnight After is based on the  novel Lost on a Red Minibus to Taipo by Pizza. It's a post apocalyptic world where the 17 occupants of the minibus appear to be the only survivors. The film starts with the bus driver Shut (Suet Lam) who is busy gambling but agrees to cover a shift for a debt leading him to be the unscheduled driver of the bus.  As the other tell their stories of how they made it on the bus each story is stranger than the next.  The only other passenger that we see their story in real time is Blind Fai (Sam Lee) a cokehead goofball that runs from drug dealers after sampling their product and ducks onto the bus to avoid paying.

Once the group realize that they are alone they drift into set roles in the group. Shun ( Chui Tien -you) is the brains. A computer  programmer he recoded the screeching phone call and figures out a way to decode it) Wong (Simon Yam) is the first to speak up taking initial leadership role until Shun begins to do his coding and English is required. Wei (Tien You Chi) a geeky and quiet music fan has  his moment when he links the encoded message from the phone call to David Bowie's A Space Oddity but the real leader is You Zhi-chi  (You Nam Wong) He is emotional has flashbacks of the crowded Hong Kong streets and of his girlfriend and is the first to see the gas mask bound virus sweep team that may or may not be present to help the survivors.

The real star of the production are the barren streets of Hong Kong themselves. As a City with just about the highest density in the world it is unnerving to see the streets completely empty. Chan takes full advantage of the setting eating scenes with Chi biking solo down the middle of a divided highway at night and Shun hiking back to his Minibus abandoned in the middle of the forked road leading to Kowloon or back to Tai Po.

Chan even delves into the lack or rules and consequences in a post apocalyptic world. The film has a real Lord of the Flies moment when a surveyor admits to a heinous act and the group decides that he must be punished. It's the women led by Pat (Goo-Bi GC) and fortune teller Mak Sau Ying (Kara  Hui) that push for the ultimate punishment but its Yuki (Janice Man) who delivers the most telling part of the verdict.

The Midnight After is the next entry in the Post Apocalyptic end of the world genre.  The film has a unique take on the subject but has too many characters and falls of into far fetched fantasy at the end of the film. Fans of these leading Hong Kong actors or hard core Sci-Fi fans will be entertained but it's not a film I can recommend to a wide audience.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Midnight After | Fruit Chan | Hong Kong / China | 2014 | 124 Minutes.

Tags:  End of the World, Virus, Explosion, Nuclear Accident,  Chaos, Minibus , Major Tom, Gas Mask.

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