First off, I would like to say that Red Nights broke my 5-film streak of great TIFF films this year. It was the first of three films I watched on Friday September 17th and it did not give a good start to the day. Directors of the film, Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, was previously most well-known for writing Johnnie To’s classic Running Out Of Time, and Red Nights was their directorial debut. Knowing only that it was a French thriller drama based in Hong Kong, I thought this sort of hybrid film would be an interesting surprise. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
WARNING: The following review may contain spoilers to Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud’s Red Nights.
Carbon and Courtiaud mentioned before the film that they lived and worked in Hong Kong for 15 years prior to making their directorial debut. And with Red Nights, they said that not only did the film embody French and Hong Kong cinema, but other genres as well stemming from Italian and Japanese filmmaking. While it is great to incorporate and mash-up various national cinema styles, you risk your film appearing messy and uncoordinated.
Red Nights served as a weak comeback film for veteran Hong Kong actress Carrie Ng, after spending over 7 years away from the entertainment business. Carrie, played by Carrie Ng (originality at its best), plays a cross between a seductress and a killer who is obsessed with finding an ancient poison that both paralyzes and enhances the victim’s senses at the same time used by The Jade Emperor, a Chinese opera in which Carrie manages. Her excitement grows as she discovers that a French mistress, Catherine, has smuggled a valuable artifact belonging to China’s first Emperor into Hong Kong containing this legendary poison. As the film’s narrative unfolds, the lines between pleasure and pain are twisted.
Although the plot might sound intriguing, Carbon and Courtiaud still has a lot of room to grow and a lot to learn in their newfound directorial position. As said before, the attempt of blending over four different national cinemas into one movie became less stylistic and even more unrealistic. Where narrow gritty Hong Kong buildings winded into spacious Japanese-styled paper rooms, contradicted the city in which the film was based on. The multilingual nature of the film seemed fresh at first but became dull and unreliable as the film progressed as characters would have long conversations speaking their respective languages and seemingly have full understanding of what the other is talking about.
Overall, this was not the most ideal story for a directorial debut. But seeing Carbon and Courtiaud’s body of written work, the directing and managing part can only improve from this point. I definitely look forward to their next project.
Next TIFF review, Guy Moshe’s Bunraku!