Saturday, February 27, 2010

Herman Yau's Nighmares in Precinct 7 (2001)

Jing (Andy Hui) is a good-looking, young, and arrogant cop. As he is being toasted at a party for one of his recent successes, he gives a false speech about how grateful he is for the help of his team and his superiors. With voice-over narration, Jing reveals that he really thinks everyone around him is an idiot and only wants to stay close to him to reap the benefits of his successes. He has little time for his cute girlfriend or for his mother and could care less about impressing any of the top brass. The following day Jing and his crew of three are performing a stakeout of a group of violent criminals. One of his crew Jap (Simon Lui, also co-writer) tells Jing that the criminals are about to exit and that they should wait for backup before advancing upon them. Jing dispenses with the backup and orders his crew to take the criminals down. Two of the officers are killed, Jap is injured, and Jing takes a bullet into the back of his skull inducing a coma.
Two years later and pretty nurse Miss Oscar (Loletta Lee) is attending to bed-ridden Jing whose eyes finally open. In the interim of his sleep, Jing learns that his mother has died, his girlfriend has moved on with her life, and that he has a new ability: a sixth sense, the ability to see ghosts around him and interact with them. Jing kindles a friendship with ghost Kit (Tat-Ming Cheung) who teaches him about the supernatural world. Jing's first assignment upon return to the police force is to arrest a serial rapist and killer who targets young nurses. Pretty Miss Oscar, who has fallen in love with her patient, Jing, according to Kit, has a shortened life line; and Jing thinks that she is the next victim...
Despite its English-language title that suggests a singular location with perhaps some spooky, paranormal events going on, Herman Yau's Nightmares in Precinct 7 (2001) is, by all appearances, a star vehicle for its leading man Andy Hui. Hui's character, Jing, is the focus, and Hui gets the opportunity with Yau and Lui's screenplay to work the dramatic range. Hui plays a hero who learns a little humility along the way and the value of help from others. Nightmares has action, comedy, drama, romance, mystery, and just a smidgen of horror. Very broad in its approach, Yau's film is unfortunately very average.
Lee's Miss Oscar is super cute and super sweet and watching her have a blossoming, shy romance with Hui's Jing was endearing at times. However, as Hui's character grows during the film, Lee's character doesn't change focus and grow at all, a true wasted opportunity. Miss Oscar is such a likable character and the potential to engage the viewer's interest could have been heightened, as it's almost telegraphed that she is the killer's next victim. Instead, Lee's character pops up in the final two-thirds of the film, as needed, for either a romantic scene with Hui or, in one of the rare scenes where Hui is absent from the screen, a target for the killer. The mystery behind the identity of the killer is fairly mediocre: the rapist/killer has eluded the police for two years (while Jing was sleeping), and soon after Hui takes over the case, he makes an associational link with the killer's patterns which seems quite obvious and that the police would have to be fairly careless not to notice. Hui's scenes with Cheung's Kit are somewhat humorous, yet Hui can't really pull off any comedy. In fact, Jing's supernatural ability is essential to the storyline but it feels like a gimmick that could be done without. The only aspect of the film which truly stands out are Yau's action scenes, which I'm convinced that Yau could direct while sleeping. During the opening action sequence and in a chase scene involving the always welcomed Suet Lam, Yau delivers his kinetic and exciting camera work and some nifty touches, as when the criminals discover the police's identity during the stakeout. Too little action, however, to recommend the film for these scenes. As for horror, the viewer can blink and miss all of those.
Finally, the ending was going for the exact opposite of comedy yet it had me laughing quite hard for its ridiculousness. An extremely average Herman Yau film, Nightmares in Precinct 7 is only for his extremely die hard fans.

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