Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
Nightmares in Precinct 7
Andy Hui Chi-on. Image courtesy Modern / Vidicon.
In 1996's MYSTERY FILES, Andy Hui Chi-on played a young genius who aids the police in solving three criminal cases. Herman Yau Lai-to's NIGHTMARES IN PRECINCT 7 could almost be seen as a follow-up, casting Hui as police officer Fong Jing, whose talents again make him invaluable but in a most unusual way.
While trying to apprehend some fleeing criminals, Jing is shot in the head and two of his underlings are fatally wounded. After two years in a coma, Jing comes to and experiences some frightening visions. However, these are not nearly as disturbing to him as the revelation that fellow patient Kit (Cheung Tat-ming) is actually a ghost. He explains that Jing's lengthy sojourn between the realms of life and death have left him with heightened sensory abilities, hence the apparitions he now sees on occasion (people who died of natural causes look normal, while accident or murder victims retain their mangled form).
Loletta Lee Lai-chun and Andy Hui with Cheung Tat-ming in the background. Image courtesy Modern / Vidicon.
Under the care of pretty nurse Oscar (Loletta Lee Lai-chun), Jing's health quickly returns and he is able to rejoin the force. Not long after Jing was shot, a serial killer started preying on nurses and has murdered seven to date, though only three bodies have been recovered. What is especially strange about the latter fact is that the victims themselves reported their own murders and two of the officers who were given this information have since died. The remaining policeman is Jing's longtime friend, Jap (Simon Lui Yu-yeung), who is understandably worried about his own safety. Jing takes over the serial killer investigation and Kit warns him that Oscar's life meter is shortening, indicating that she will likely be the next target. Using his newfound ability, Jing is able to speak to the spirit of the latest victim but, even with this supernatural assistance, the murderer remains elusive.
Simon Lui Yu-yeung and Andy Hui. Image courtesy Modern / Vidicon.
While this premise could easily have been condensed and included in an anthology (a la the TROUBLESOME NIGHT series, which Yau initiated), the feature length treatment allows for the characters to be developed to a degree rarely found in HK horror. This adds extra resonance to Jing's meeting with his old girlfriend (Fennie Yuen Kit-ying), who has since married, and, later, the ghosts of his dead partners. The story unfolds via a flashback / flashforward structure that was probably not necessary in hindsight and, as commanded by genre law, there are a couple of cheap scares the movie would have been better off without. Thankfully, Yau more than compensates with some sly bits of misdirection and the writing is refreshingly clever for the most part (when someone says hello to Jing, he is never sure whether he should answer, in case the person is a ghost that no one else can see). The ending does not quite click, because the film is ultimately not true to its own internal logic, but the majority of NIGHTMARES IN PRECINCT 7 is well crafted and the leads give unaffected, disarming performances. Lam Suet (as a potential suspect), William So Wing-hong, and Henry Fong Ping also appear. Trivia note: On the day this film began production, TVB started shooting its own serialized adaptation of the same story, though the similarities between the two projects reportedly do not extend beyond the basic premise.
Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying. Image courtesy Modern / Vidicon.
Loletta Lee. Image courtesy Modern / Vidicon.