A helpless Taxi driver, A mysterious delivery boy, A 30 years abandoned motel, a touching past, all stitches up to form a strange tale. One day, a strange passenger "Xiao Ma" hires a taxi driver "Map King" paying him a huge sum of money to fetch him to an abandoned old motel "Chun Lei Motel". This motel was mysteriously burnt 30 years ago and was abandoned since. Nobody knows about its existence and nobody talks about it. To Xiao Ma's surprise, the taxi driver Map King actually knows how to get to the motel.
Ah Fang being the only female character in this story is the owner of the Chun Lei motel. She started off her peaceful life with her only son until the day where 'The 4 Thieves' visits her motel on the seventh day after her husband's death. Mysteriously the motel was on fire right after the meeting and everyone had gone missing after the fire incident and the motel was abandoned for 30 years. What actually happened to the motel? What's the reason behind the fire? What strange things happened on and after the seventh day of Ah Fang's husband's death?
Herman Yau’s latest low-budget “The First 7th Night” is what I call pseudo-horror. It’s not exactly a horror movie- though many of its elements would suggest so. It’s really more like a mystery wrapped around the guise of a horror movie. That would explain how it actually feels like three distinct acts stitched together.
The first puts in place all the ingredients for horror- there is a mysterious person Pony (Julian Cheung) who wants to go to a remote, mostly unheard of place called the Moon and Sun village, and there’s a down-and-out taxi driver Map King (Lam Ka-Tung) who is probably the only one among his peers to know where it is, let alone the way there. Pony is driving a truck with some cargo he needs transported to the village and when probed, refuses to say what it is.
So, off they go, Pony driving his truck behind Map King’s cab, communicating via CB along their journey. Director and co-writer Herman Yau is no stranger to horror- he directed the first six instalments of a B-grade horror series called “Troublesome Night”- and the first act effectively sets the stage for something eerie to come.
The long way there gives Pony the chance to ask Map King to tell him the story of the village and after some hesitation, Map King agrees. This is the second act- the story of four bank robbers who stumble into a deserted restaurant in the village, the robbers, as criminals are, filled with distrust of one another. When this story goes on for longer than you’d expect it to, you know that Herman Yau intends for it to be more than some filler for the ride.
The third act links the first and the second and provides closure for what and who the “First 7th Night” is meant for. Yes, the name of the movie goes back to the popular belief that when a person dies, his soul returns on the seventh night. Just who returns is at the centre of the mystery, and one which turns out surprisingly engaging.
Herman Yau may not be any auteur, but the prolific director at least knows how to tell a story well. Indeed, “The First 7th Night” unfolds competently enough to keep you absorbed despite its slightly fractured structure. But what holds the movie together is the effective acting by Lam Ka-Tung and Eddie Cheung (as one of the four robbers), both veterans in the Hong Kong film industry who deserve more credit for what they have proven to be capable of.
“The First 7th Night” may have seemed like a natural follow-up to Herman Yau’s earlier bloody, gory horror-shlock “Gong Tau” (2007) (which by the way, was never released in Singapore) but the two are quite distinctly different. This possesses none of Gong Tau’s excessiveness, and hence if you’re expecting to be scared, you might be disappointed by how this movie turns out. But if you’re willing to let it engage you in its own way, you might find this surprisingly watchable in its own right.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
The Cantonese audio is a treat for fans of Hong Kong cinema (enough of that bad dubbing we get for all the cinematic releases). For a movie set wholly in the dark of night, the visual transfer works just fine to bring out the details.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 8 August 2009