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Longest Nite, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A sort-of-lost, sort-of-Jonnie To gangster treat."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: The vast majority of the time, a movie that gets taken away from its writer-director and extensively reworked by the studio is going to be a mess, and "The Longest Nite" isn't exactly the movie that bucks that trend. Of course, most of the time the studio has to fit more than five scenes into their new vision. And the fixers are seldom people on the same level as Wai Ka-fai and Johnnie To.

The film opens with a chunk of exposition about the Triad situation in Macau - Mr. Hung is the more established boss, and he's been locked in conflict with Mr. K for some time. Mr. Lung feels this situation is bad for business, so he's coming into town to make them work together. There's a contract out on Mr. Hung, presumably from Mr. K, and a number of hitmen have converged on the island to execute it. This includes Tony (Lau Ching-wan), although he doesn't seem to be actively doing much aside from getting between Mr. K's son Mark (Mark Cheng) and Maggie (Maggie Siu), a waitress at one of the clubs. He's still drawing the attention of Sam (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), a corrupt cop on Mr. Lung's payroll.

If one looks too closely at the parts of the story that involve Triad hierarchy and who's paying who to do what, The Longest Nite's plot becomes a tangle to rival The Big Sleep, where the director and screenwriter famously had to phone Raymond Chandler to find out which character killed another (and got an ambiguous answer!). Like The Big Sleep, fortunately, the details of such things really don't matter so much. The plot is just there to give Tony a reason to skulk around Macao and Sam to chase after him, with various action stops along the way.

And, given that the film has Lau Ching-wan and Tony Leung Chiu-wai in the leads, it's generally going to be a lot of fun to watch. Both portray their characters as smart, capable people and worthy adversaries for one another. Lau does a great job of making Tony a guy who can vanish into a crowd but is also clearly the smartest guy in the room. He deadpans his way through a great many scenes, and at other times gives the blank face that says anything else would give it all away - but he's smirking on the inside. Leung's Sam doesn't display any of that sort of restraint, and he frequently plows scenes like a bull in a china shop. He's a burst of sometimes cocky, sometimes frustrated energy, gleefully sadistic, but never giving the impression that he's so out of control that he should be written off.

We'll never know what Patrick Yau's film would have looked like, but it seems fairly likely that To and Wai did not tone it down too much when they took over. An early scene has Sam enthusiastically smashing the fingers of a potential assassin to be sure he doesn't try anything - and then coming back to do it a little more, just in case. There's a naked, headless corpse in play, and Maggie is introduced vomiting on a customer for no particular reason. The over-the-top stuff doesn't take over the movie, but there's enough so that no particular incident makes the audience wonder what that was doing in this movie. The action direction in general is what we've come to expect from Johnnie To - not flashy, but you won't find many wrong steps. The action is also pretty good, especially when there are cars crashing into each other in a way that would make fans of 1970s vehicular mayhem smile.

The one exception to that is the climactic fight scene. In a Q&A afterward, Wai Ka-fai freely admitted that by the time it was shot, the budget was stretched and the film was running short (even with this sequence extended, the film clocks in at less than 85 minutes). It's got one quality bit of mayhem, but is otherwise an example of things not to do: The filmmakers deliberately make it difficult to tell the two characters from one another, and in fact shoot it in such a way that I wasn't sure whether or not Tony Leung Chiu-wai was ever on set, or just looped dialogue for his stunt double.

That winds up being a minor blot on what is otherwise a fine bit of Hong Kong crime. Not bad considering the rocky road it had to the screen. Unfortunately, it has also had a rough time getting on video; even ten years later, a rare festival screening like this is one of the only ways to see it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19108&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/26/09 19:05:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

6/29/09 alan not bad worth a watch 3 stars
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