Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud are two french men who call Hong Kong home. For the past decade they have together been writing scripts for Chinese films. The most notable being Johnnie To's Running Out of TIme.
Now the two have made their first feature Red Nights a French/Chinese thriller with a taste of the erotic.
Being both French and Chinese the film feels distinctly like two films running at the same time and as such I'll review both parts separately:
The French version
The film follows a French woman who is wanted for the murder of her boss/business partner. Trying to make the best out of an unfinished deal her and the late boss were in the middle of finalizing she decides to continue alone. She quickly finds that all previous business partners don't trust her, now on the run from both police and criminals she must prove that she's not to be messed with. Very reminiscent of Le Samurai (for one, she wears the woman's version of Alain Delon's trenchcoat) this portion of the films is all guns, cigarettes, and money.
The Chinese version
The film follows an artistic wealthy Chinese woman who has an extreme fetish for death. When a deal she had made with a previous partner falls through due to his death she decides to steal what she was bargaining for from his assistant. This artifact is actually a poison that she believes belonged to the Jade Emperor's executioner. It's a poison that paralyzes your body while intensifying all your nerve endings, so that pain is beyond extreme and a kiss feels like an orgasm. She intends to use it on her self but not before she uses it on some unfortunate souls she comes across first. Being a ruthless, eccentric criminal has it's price as police and rival thugs start to close in around her.
Together the film is a mix of styles and genres from across Europe and Asia. Thankfully, the conflicting styles work very well together, arriving at something that feels like what Melville would have delivered if he had shot Sex and Zen.
The big issue is that this film is screaming to be longer. The 98 minute run time doesn't do the story or characters any justice and turns a well paced film into one quickly trying to tie up loose ends. If only this was at least two hours long, it may have been the masterpiece it wanted to be.
Last night, MM gave us the bewitching Red Nights, which, for my money, may wind up being one of the sleepers of the whole programme. Directed by two Frenchmen living in Hong Kong (and go-to screenwriters for masters Johnnie To, Tsui Hark and others), Red Nights is a bold vision which leaves an indelible impression in the darkest furrows of your mind. Vague plotlines aside, the film creates an insular, whispery world of intrigue, kink, and dread.
Unlike day 6's film, Red Nights slyly incorporates its influences into a refreshing, unique whole, and the references come off as nods rather than direct rips. Even the DePalma-stroking split-screen scene plays wonderfully well, and is used to create a palpable tension rather than simply for cheap gimmickry. There are a few scenes that don't "make sense" in the traditional sense of the term, but work because of the visual aesthetic and atmosphere they give the film.
Best viewed as a stylish, sexy, dream logic thriller, something that given different circumstances might have been the product of a collaboration between David Lynch and Dario Argento, Red Nights is a night time run through the streets of Hong Kong, neon everywhere, plastic, sound, colour. Oh, colour! The film really, uh, gets under your skin.
A terrifically menacing ambient score from Seppuku Paradigm ties the package up neatly with a bow. A feast for the eyes and ears, Red Nights is a wonderfully chilling mood piece, and while a credible plot certainly does exist here, I feel it's best to simply let the film wash over you, absorb you, tempt and seduce you into its dark, terrifying world.
- the coelacanth