The First 7th Night (Tau Chut) (2009): Hong Kong – directed by Herman Yau
Not rated by the MPAA – contains some strong violence and language, and a little sexual content
Herman Yau’s The First 7th Night is billed as his latest horror film. And, while it has a couple components that would be right at home in a horror movie, it turns out to be more of a psychological mystery. It also contains elements of Rashômon, a ghost story, and a crime drama thrown in for good measure.
The film opens with a cab driver, miserably living in his taxi. His name is Map King (Ka Tung Lam, from Infernal Affairs and Ip Man) and his only redeeming feature is that he knows the geography of the entire country. So, when a fellow cab driver calls him saying there’s a customer who needs to get to the Sun and Moon village urgently, it is expected he will take him there. It soon becomes clear, however, that Map King has promised never to go there again. With a promise of triple fair and a bonus of $3000 he decides to make an exception.
Map King meets up with the customer, a mysterious delivery man who has something important to deliver to the village. He follows Map King with his truck as they head off into the night. Along the way they chat over the radio and there are hints that the delivery man might know a little more than he lets on. They are on their way to an old restaurant and hotel that burned down many years ago in the small village.
The film initially flashes back to Map King’s version of what happened that night, then later the delivery man tells his version of the events. Both stories involve a young widow and four thieves who visited her the night the establishment burned. The thieves have just escaped a shootout with the cops and are carrying a briefcase full of money. But what role, exactly, does the widow have in what happens? And what of her husband’s return (on the seventh night after their death the dead return for an hour to visit the family), which just happens to be on the night the thieves arrive?
But I can’t spoil anything more. The film’s success lies in its ability to unravel and reveals some more secrets. A couple of the twists and revelations are rather unpredictable, especially the ending. At the same time the story never feels forced or overly contrived, an admirable quality in a mystery.
One small problem, though, is that the film straddles several genres without a clear focus on any one, in the manner of East-Asian films like Perng Mang [review here]. There is a supernatural ghost story, an element involving criminals hiding out after a crime, and then the overarching story of a taxi driver leading a delivery man to a strange place. Throw in a little violence and a little romance and it becomes evident that the film does not have one style or theme in mind.
This is not a bad thing, necessarily. The First 7th Night is well enough made, with strong production values and effective acting, to enable the audience to not worry about any potential flaws. I ended up quite engrossed in the mystery and curious about the climax. For that reason it’s worthy of a recommendation. However, audiences expecting the latest bloody horror film from Hong Kong will probably be disappointed. There is not much gore, just some blood of the standard criminal variety. Those looking for a Category III film filled with nudity and sex will also be disappointed. Those whose expectations are more in line with what the film offers will find an enjoyable mystery with enough twists and turns to maintain interest.