Reel Asian 2014: The Morning After
There comes a point in Fruit Chan’s sci-fi horror/comedy/zombie mash-up The Morning After where one cannot help but sit back and smile. Chan perfectly encapsulates the outlandish nature of the film with a simple shot of a portly minibus driver Suet (Lam Suet) struggling to make it down a deserted road. In one hand he is carrying a full gasoline canister and in the next an oversized meat cleaver akin to the swords found in Manga books. The comical image is only a small fraction of the gleefully layered insanity that occurs in the film.
Adapted from the web based novel “Lost on Red Minibus to Taipo,” The Morning After is not shy about showing its affinity for cinema, Hong Kong, and all things in-between. Freely gliding from genre to genre, the film references everything from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (wonderfully performed by Jan Curious) to the value of Morse Code to the impact of SARS and the Fukushima Diiachi nuclear disaster on modern society. Though the film may presents itself as a post-apocalyptic tale, Chan has little care for actually adhering to the conventions of the genre. In one of the several self-aware moments, a character even quips about Hong Kong not getting science fiction tales. Clearly, Chan does “get it” and is not afraid to show it.
The tonally shifting tale focuses on passengers on a minibus who, after passing through the Lion Rock Tunnel in Shatin, discover that they might be the only people left on earth. Baffled by the fact that their loved ones have simply vanished, the eclectic group must rely on each other if they hope to find any answers. Of course this is easier said than done when the group includes the likes of a know-it-all cheapskate (Simon Yam), a computer programmer (Chui Tien-you), a tweaked out drug addict (Sam Lee), and a rosary-wielding clairvoyant (Kara Hui) to name a few. With mysterious phone calls and a deadly virus surfacing, the group must figure out if they have actually been brought together for a reason.
Part of the delicious fun in The Morning After is not so much solving the mystery, but seeing what Fruit Chan will throw at the wall next. Taking inspiration from so many different elements, the film feels like a hilarious Dr. Who episode one minute and a disturbing social commentary on man’s barbaric nature the next. Somehow, Chan manages to not only juggle all the various themes, but makes them feel perfectly natural for the most part. If there is one flaw to Chan’s approach it is that the film does overstay its welcome a bit. Clocking in at two hours, The Morning After begins to lose a bit of steam in the last 30 minutes. This is especially noticeable when the film goes from the group having to wrestle with the dark ramifications of an action by one of their own to an almost slapstick series of events in its head-scratching ending.
Fortunately the first 90 minutes are so entertaining that one is willing to forgive the stuffed final act. It also helps that Chan gets top-notch performances out of his cast. Simon Yam and Lam Suet, in particular, do a great job in the film. Given some of the funniest lines in the film, both men bring a tinge of melancholy to their roles. Their characters want to be viewed as important figures, but are ultimately struggling to deal with the failures in their life.
Chan’s wonderful visuals bring the deserted streets of Tai Po to vibrant life. There is a haunting beauty to the way the director juxtaposes the nighttime view of the region, full of neon lights, with the hustle and bustle of regular life viewed in flashbacks. The film almost feels like a love letter, albeit a rather twisted one, to the town as a whole. Coupled with brilliant sound design, that can make seeds hitting the side of a truck sound epic, Fruit Chan keeps the eerie tone of the film alive even during its humorous moments. Despite its loopy final act, the hodgepodge nature of the film works surprisingly well. The Morning After is a truly an entertaining genre-bending tale that plays by its own rules.
Tonight, 7 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre