Willon Lai’s review published on Letterboxd :
The Midnight After
Web fiction is beloved among youngsters that are solely on the Internet, which become a typical way to pass the time, the themes often tend to please readers, such as pornography, strange, mystery, supernatural and rudimentary. Nonetheless, it is not common to figure web fictions can remake into a movie. For independent movie, The Midnight After is which the source material is a web-novel, “Lost on a Red Mini Bus to Taipo”, originated by a writer “Mr. Pizza” from the Internet forum HKGolden.
The name of this movie, The Midnight After, otherwise known as “The One Morning, I Sat On a Red Van from Mongkok to Taipo (那夜凌晨，我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅 van) ”, simply tells the story was started at a dazzling midnight where the characters of the movie got on a red minibus in Mongkok travelled to Taipo then experiencing a ghost town in their destination. Passengers struggled for survival and cooperated together, but some of them accidentally died. The story focused on 3 issues- Society, the spirit of mutual cooperation and justice. In this report, I will aim at analysis these three aspects that connected to the reality, also analysis those characters and tonality of the movie.
The Midnight After is a 2014 Hong Kong-Cantonese mystery and honor film directed by Fruit Chan (陳果) and produced by Amy Chin, Fruit also is the script writer with Fai-Hung Chan (陳輝虹) and based on the web novel by Mr. Pizza. The leading actors are Wong You-nam (黄又南), Janice Man (文詠珊) and Simon Yam (任達華). The production company is Golden Scene Company, the film is funded by the Film Development Fund of Hong Kong. The film has its world premiere at the Panorama section of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival (BIFF) on 7th February 2014, while released in Hong Kong on 10th April 2014.
Fruit had showed his deep understanding to Hong Kong culture as the movie appears numeral unique Hong Kong culture, such as SARS and classic “cha chaan teng” (茶餐廳), and even satire on the safety of Shenzhen Daya Bay nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, the “red van” represents the symbol of Hong Kong.
There is two version in this movie- a Level III version that includes rich Cantonese colloquialisms and a scene on Necrophilia. In order to let underage audiences watch this movie, there is a Level IIB version that minimize the content of foul languages and add mosaic to the inappropriate scene. We will base on the Level III version to analysis the movie.
This film won 7 awards from Hong Kong and overseas, named Best Film and Best Director in 21th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards, Jury Choice from Eighteenth Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival and Best Original Film Score in the 34th Hong Kong Film Awards.
The Midnight after also had over 15 nominations, such as nominated the Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects in the 34th Hong Kong Film Awards.
A group of passengers came from different ages and backgrounds board on a red minibus traveled from Mongkok to Taipo at midnight. Before it set off, there was a couple argued in the minibus then get off, they died in a traffic accident when the minibus passed by. Meanwhile, the driver Suet (Lam Suet), passengers including You Zhi-chi (Wong You-nam), Yuki (Janice Man), a middle-aged man Wong Man-fat (Simon Yam), fortune teller Mak Sau-ying (Kara Hui), IT expert Shun (Chui Tien-you), married couple Pat (Vincci Cheuk) and Bobby (Lee Sheung-ching), junkie Blind Fai (Sam Lee), long hair freak Auyeung Wai (Jan Curious), tedious young woman Lavina (Melodes Mak) , two young gangsters namely Airplane and Glu-stick and four students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. After crossing the Lion Rock Tunnel, they noticed that the whole town became a ghost town, without any human and vehicles. When the four students get off the minibus, one of them suddenly felt ill, then they died by a mystery illness one by one. They were died back-to-back because of an enigma virus. Other passengers on the minibus discovered the mobile network was suspended, they started to guess about the situation. They agreed to go back their place to have a rest.
They gathered at a “cha chaan teng” the next morning, after receiving the same mysterious call all at once in the night. Shun tried to decode the mysterious siren from their calls, weave with an amusing performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” by Wai. Consequently, Wai was died in the restaurant unintentionally by caught on fire. Afterward, a Japanese man in a gas mask who watched over the survivors outside the restaurant saw by Zhi-chi and Man-fat, they chased the man down fiercely in order to solve questions while Lavina died on the street and had been raped. Miserably, they let the man escaped as they have some disagreement.
Bobby had touched the dead body and infected the virus. When they went back to the restaurant, his arms were collapsed then felt into the water tank. Airplane surrendered and apologized that he had raped Lavina, others were extremely angry, especially Pat and Yuki, where decided to sanction him that prevent spreading the virus and help Bobby to revenge. They used a knife to kill Airplane and had pierced his body one-by-one.
Eventually, Zhi-chi received a call from her girlfriend in 2018, which telling him the minibus was lost and people were searching them for a long time, also mentioning phrases about explosion, nuclear and Tai Mo Shan(tallest mountain in Hong Kong). Therefore, Zhi-chi and other survivors decided to leave Taipo and went to Tai Mo Shan to find out the mystery. They prepared many equipment before went on travel. In their way, an army of men in gas masks were following them and even bumped the minibus as they do whatever action to stop them from reaching Tai Mo Shan.
Finally, the minibus won the army that it went to the tunnel successfully, on the journey, there was rain in red color, everything became red and passengers missed their families and lovers, they hoped to leave this horrible situation.
Mutual cooperation :
The Midnight After strongly display the mutual cooperation among survivors after they went to the ghost town, there are several events show the main characters work together to figure out ways to solve different conundrums. At first, they stayed in the minibus and evaluated the situation, they suggested many different possibilities and such Shun pointed that they were lost, Man-fat even said they had had a traffic accident. Still, all of them were afraid and decided to exchange their WhatsApp contacts in order to share every latest information. Secondly, they received an anonymous call with strange sounds, Man-fat suggested gathering at a “cha chaan teng” that to find out what is happening, while Shun recorded the message and analyzed by his computer. Everyone are curious about the meaning, Bobby, Man-fat and Wai gave different ideas on it, finally resolve as a sentence “I am trapped!” and lyrics of “Space Oddity” (pretended as Major Tom) by using Morse code. Last but not the least, survivors planned to go to Tai Mo Shan, Suet went to take the minibus and the others got protective equipment and materials from a supermarket.
These examples show that the characters had marvelous cooperation. It reflects the “spirit of Lion Rock” (獅子山精神) can still appear in Hong Kong nowadays, which people are helping and supporting each other(同舟共濟). This spirit was triggered since the survivors were facing the same difficulty, trapped in a ghost town, which they are the only human in that world. Eventually, they need to stick together in order to protect themselves, also find ways to leave Taipo.
Justice (Moral judgement):
In consideration of the storyline, the characters were in a ghost town, which simply no other human. In that scenario, legal manner and law enforcement were gone. This anarchy situation allows the power of legal authority controlled by the survivors, and lynching was allowed to execute a criminal. Justice only could be manifested with value adjustment of them, for instance, Man-fat said, “if we are the remaining human in this world, the society belongs to us!”. Therefore, when Airplane raped and killed Lavina, others were extremely furious on him. Pat and Yuki advocated that to sanction Airplane, while for the reason of preventing of spreading the virus. As a result, they used a knife to kill Airplane sequentially.
After two consecutive thorns by Yuki, Airplane died. Yet, when Airplane became a zombie, Shun killed him again. This represents no one was giving Airplane a second chance in spite of guilt and apologies, moral judgement replaced the law.
Fruit Chan expresses his care of social and political issues in Hong Kong. He modified the movie slightly different from the original version, adding some dialogues and symbolic elements into the movie.
Primarily, Zhi-chi received a call from her girlfriend in 2018, then Suet asked him what is the difference in that year while Man-fat told Suet the chief executive is elected by universal suffrage instead of appointed by the mainland government, Suet replied he wanted to know who is the new chief executive, this satire people in Hong Kong do not really have the right to vote (Figure 2.8 and 2.9). Apart from this, Yuki questioned, “Is Taipo really infected? Are we necessary to leave this place!” (大埔係咪有毒？係咪一定要離開！) (Figure 2.10). This quote signifies Hong Kong is not a favorable place to live anymore, more citizens plan to leave due to numerous social and political problems. Furthermore, when Blind Fai got on the minibus to leave Taipo, he saw other survivors were wearing protective suits and ridiculed them as the former Hong Kong’s First Lady Mrs. Tung, who wore a similar suit in the period of SARS. This shows Hong Kong people do not feel safe, they need to protect themselves and be alert to any crisis (Figure 2.11).
On the other hand, there are some symbolic elements presented in the movie. The main element is the Lion Rock Tunnel. Since Lion Rock has special significance to Hong Kong people, those unforgettable old days in the 70s till 90s, which is still a British colony. Passing through the tunnel stands for the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The main characters found out the city became a ghost town that they are not familiar with this place, thus Hong Kong is not same as the past anymore, such as the influence of mainland China and increasing social disharmony (Figure 2.12). Meanwhile, some people believed colonial period of Hong Kong is better than days after return to mainland China. Zhi-chi cycled through the tunnel to Kowloon as he wanted to meet his girlfriend in Mei Foo (Figure 2.13), also the survivors were leaving Taipo at the end of the story (Figure 2.14). From the geographical and historical point of view of, it is a metaphor of going from under China’s rule to British’s rule, as Kowloon is located on the south while mainland China is north of Hong Kong, they travel northward that willing to escape from the rule of China.
From this movie, different characters are having a diverse social background, which represent different types of Hong Kong people. This simply shows a microcosm of the society of Hong Kong. The following divides 12 types of Hong Kong people appeared in the minibus.
Zhi-chi (Wong You-nam)
Zhi-chi is an ideal and aspiring youngster, also enjoying romantic love. He represents a type of young generation of the 80s and 90s, as they just step into the society, their idea becomes impractical and feel hopeless, controlled by the oppressive social system, such as Zhi-chi helplessly followed others to kill Airplane. However, they were brave enough to challenge difficulties, for example, Zhi-chi had tried to cycle from Taipo to Mei Foo to find his girlfriend. Further, these young people are not eager to help others, likely to be self-centeredness, they prefer to secure their benefit instead of scarifying it. In the movie, Zhi-chi wanted to protect himself that not helping the CUHK students.
Shun (Chui Tien-you)
Shun is a type of well-educated middle-class person, he has strong critical thinking that could reasoning rationally. However, this type of person mainly consider their benefit, they flatter other people who have more power or wealth, but stab others in the back. For example, Shun pretend very wretched to Airplane and stand on his side, however, Shun was dealt to kill Airplane after he became a zombie. .
Yuki (Janice Man)
Yuki was the most mystery character in the movie. She was a pretty girl in others’ eye, but Zhi-chi has seen a horrible face on her. She is a not a typical Hong Kong youngsters, which have many unknowns. Therefore, she represents new immigrants that they may facilitate Hong Kong development while sometimes may bring scourge to the society.
Man-fat (Simon Yam)
Man-fat is a kind of middle-aged man, which has much life experiences, always nosy and pushy. He represents the middle-age generation of the 50s and 60s. They boasted their talent and achievements when they were having the same age as the youngsters. Likewise, he mentioned that he joined the Hong Kong First Division League 30 years ago. Further, he ridiculed Zhi-chi and Shun by telling them are “spring”(春) and “generation”(代), which is a Cantonese foul language.
Sau Ying (Kara Hui)
Ying is a jumped on the bandwagon opportunists, she tried to fabricate lies to rationalize different mystery appeared in the story, still she felt fear in her mind. She represents the general Hong Kong citizens, which also accepting a rapid change of the society, especially integration of Hong Kong and mainland. Meanwhile, they can maintain ways of making money in troubled environment that match the unique spirit of Hong Kong- survive in adversity, for example, Ying asked other passengers to purchase insurance when Auyeung Wai was dying.
Suet (Lam Suet)
Suet is a hard-working grassroots, who pay silently with little complaint. He shows the low-income group in Hong Kong are doing the best of their job. They are not too strong-minded in the current situation that do not affect their living. For example, Suet agreed to get petrol from a petrol station in order to let all survivors left Taipo.
Pat and Bobby (Vincci Cheuk and Lee Sheung-ching)
Pat and Bobby are a typical couple in Hong Kong, which is apolitical and careless about the society, just focus on entertainment and career. Like this couple, they worked hard for mortgage installment of their flat that last for 25 years. Therefore, they most likely have to bear a huge financial burden.
Blind Fai (Sam Lee)
Fai is an addicts that let himself having a befuddled life, he wanted to escape from the reality. In some way, it is similar to those Hong Kong people who missed the age of British Hong Kong, they do not accept the fact of return of Hong Kong to China. It is similar to Fai said “I am not from Taipo, I’ll leave now” and “I want to go to Tsuen Wan right now”, which implies the felling of people dissatisfy the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China.
Airplane and Glu-stick
Airplane and Glu-stick represent out-of-school and unemployed youth. They do not have any skill, only satisfying the basic physiological needs, such as food, rest and sexual instinct. For instance, Airplane only wanted to fulfil his sexual need and raped Lavina when Taipo became a ghost town.
Auyeung Wai (Jan Curious)
Wai is a talented and well-educated youngster, he has a deep understanding to different cultures, such as singing the famous song “Space Oddity” of David Bowie, which is a symbolic representation of space exploration in the 1960s. He represents those intelligent youth that are cynical and lack of opportunities, they feel extremely dissatisfaction to the society, eventually focus on art and social movements.
Lavina (Melodes Mak)
Lavina is a vanity and splurge woman, which spend a lot of money on luxury and costly fashion. In the movie, she borrowed usury and dunned by the gangsters, consequently, she dressed gristly in order to hide her actual identity. She represents those Hong Kong women that affected by the materialism, they advocate brands and cause overspending, therefore they do not hesitate to borrow loans and use credit cards, which Lavina was in the same circumstances.
four CUHK students
This four student is a simile of Hong Kong people who immigrate to foreign countries. As the students were the first leave the minibus, unfortunately, they infected a mystery virus and died, which is same as those immigrated. Since they cannot suit the leaving Hong Kong, they lost their jobs and opportunities.
Red color penetrates in the whole movie. There are items are in red colors, such as the minibus, lights in the “cha chaan teng”, “red rain” and blood. Since red color tone represents desire, danger and revolution, also an emblem color of the communist government in the mainland China. It results in strongly highlight a world surrounded by red color, telling an increasing of influence from the mainland China and Hong Kong is not a satisfying to live.
The red minibus continuously show up in the movie. The story started at a minibus while end at a minibus, plus the Chinese film name mentions “red minibus” (紅van). In fact, it is an important elements that not only this phrase appears frequently, also this minibus brought the characters from Mongkok to Taipo and began the secrecy adventure.
In addition, minibus (Van仔) is an unique culture of Hon Kong, which is a kind of public transport that is small scale but fast and efficient. 16 passengers are sit in a small area for the same journey. In some ways, it shows Hong Kong people are all in the same boat, like the 17 characters in the movie were all going through the same challenge. People are cooperating together in a united way.
This movie consists of many handheld shots. Handheld shot refers to a shot taken with a handheld camera or deliberately made to appear unstable and shaky, it is often used to show 'realism', cinéma-vérité, or amateur cinematography. Therefore, applying handheld shots involve motions that may present realistic senses. It has been used not only in outdoor scenes, but also in indoor. The following are some examples of the handheld shots from the movie.
The Dutch Angle refers to the camera angle is deliberately slanted to one side, it feels like oblique or tilted. It is frequently used in this movie, since it can create dramatic effects, such as disorientation, frantic or desperate feeling, thus setting up an imbalance doomsday atmosphere. The following are some Dutch angle found in the movie.
There is a virtual arrangement applied in the movie, characters are formed into lines, it extend the perspective point from foreground to the background. They are surrounded by different objects, such as in the minibus or the restaurant, it shows they are trapped in the ghost town. This method of composition accompanies the idea of the minibus, which is “all are on the same boat”(坐同一條船), it shows all of them are interdependent.
As has been analyzed in this report, the characters and three main theme are analysis deeply based on the film plot, plus look into some cinematography. As the producer Winnie Tsang mentioned in the interview from the Wall Street Journal, "The film is about the loss of Hong Kong”, while this report clearly reflects the storyline of the movie is a metaphor of the society of Hong Kong, there are numerous social conflicts and political challenges nowadays.
Since “The Midnight After” is a low-budget sci-fi independent film, also based on an online novel, the movie is successful as it receives several awards and the box office is satisfied. Although the story plot is slightly different from the original version, the characters are visualized and the flow is not duplicated and lengthy. Moreover, the movie has revealed the local culture, such as the rich use of Cantonese colloquialisms and the filming was actually took place in Taipo, which let audiences have resonance. To sum up, “The Midnight After” has an open ending that is not expected to have next episode. This film that is worth to watch and reevaluate our mind set towards our society.
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By Lai Willon Chun Yin
Hong Kong Polytechnic University Student
A film review from GEC1C45: Understanding Hong Kong Cinema