Taking a recent, controversial incident in Shanghai as its starting point, this film blends documentary style with standard drama and ends up as an ultimately unsatisfying experience about something that I suspect deserves far better treatment (though it has already been the subject of a documentary by Al Weiwei so maybe that is the feature I need to watch).
Yang Jia was a young man who was arrested for riding an unlicensed bicycle in Shanghai. He was then, as far as I understand it, treated very badly by the police (to put it mildly) and had none of his complaints taken seriously. He then walked into a building full of police officers and killed six, a crime for which he was convicted and given the death penalty. While this was unfolding, Yang Jia’s mother (played by Nai An) was being held in a hospital facility and was unable to help her son in any way, despite the fact that she believed herself to have evidence that would help her son’s defence.
Starting, and ending, with words being spoken over a number of still photographs, When Night Falls might be a bit of a misfire, but it’s certainly an interesting one. Writer-director Ying Liang chooses not to focus on the incident itself (much to my frustration, though it’s an admirable choice) and instead shows everything as it affects the devastated and helpless mother of Yang Jia. Once it gets beyond the incredibly slow opening scenes, Ying Liang puts together a number of beautiful little moments that show a woman feeling at her loneliest and most helpless.
The minimal soundtrack is effective, as are the choice of camera shots. As well as a sterling central performance from Nai An, there is a good supporting cast helping the movie along. I hate to sound as if I’m nit-picking, but one major flaw that irked me was the clumsy subtitling that kept cropping up every now and again. Either the sentences were being translated too literally at times, or numerous mistakes were being made, or both. It may seem like a small thing, but it really upsets the ebb and flow of the movie, a movie designed to be languid and contemplative.
I stand by what I said at the start of this review. This story deserves better, more in-depth, treatment. Yet Ying Liang has created something as occasionally interesting and beautiful as it is flawed. I’m sure that some people will absolutely love it. Others, like myself, will be seeking out the documentary by Al Weiwei as soon as the end credits have finished rolling.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: YING LIANG
STARS: NAI AN, KATE WEN, SUN MING
RUNTIME: 70 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: SOUTH KOREA/CHINA