Sigh...last one of the year. Another TIFF come and gone, closing it out this overcast Sunday with one last Midnight Madness escapade, the French/Cantonese Les Nuits Rouges du Bourreau de Jade (Red Nights). I suppose I could lay a lot of the same criticism at the feet of this flick that I did with The Butcher yadda yadda, as it does veer dangerously close to disorganized mashup territory, but Red Nights carries it off much better; you never feel as if the directors aren’t actually steering the ship. It’s a French film, really, it just happens to be set in Hong Kong, and stars Carrie Ng, who I somewhat remember from my years as a HK film fanatic, though she was a second-tier star whose work I didn’t pay as much attention to as I did, say, Maggie Cheung, and who did way too many sleazy Wong Jing comedies for my liking. Still, she does have an impressive screen presence here, as a femme fatale whose viciousness would put Bridget Gregory to shame.
The plot is ostensibly a thriller, a noirish tale of antique smuggling and competing mob bosses, but layered onto the action is a bizarre tale of a perverse sexual underground, with Ng as a black widow type who straddles the line between fetishistic kink games and the kind of bloody sadism that made me nearly throw up at Martyrs two years ago (what is it with French directors and their desire to see women skinned alive, anyway?). The scene in which she demonstrates the effectiveness of a paralyzing agent on a hapless underling by flaying her alive with a set of three inch jade fingernails is one for the MM record books, and did provoke more than a few walkouts. While I can’t quite recommend the film—its jumble is a little too unhinged for my liking—I will concede that it does deliver all it promises, which is the hallmark of a successful Midnight Madness festival pick. So I didn’t end the festival with a bang...it’s been a few years since my final film sent me out onto the autumn streets of Toronto with a film-lovin’ spring in my step, but overall this year is on an upward swing from 2009. Only fifty or so weeks to go until the fun starts again...(**1/2)