UDINE, Italy: The director of a post-apocalyptic thriller says the film has struck a chord in a city grappling with its identity under Chinese rule. “People are getting very angry about the government. This film is their voice,” said Fruit Chan, whose “The Midnight After” has so far collected more than $2.6 million at the local box office, making back more than four times its budget.
The horror-comedy is a return to form for one of Hong Kong’s few commercially successful independent directors, boasting typical Chan ingredients of ultraviolence and distinctly local, black humor.
Adapted from an online novel, “The Midnight After” places a group of people in a minibus late at night. When the bus emerges from Hong Kong’s Lion Rock Tunnel, they find the streets deserted after an unexplained calamity.
The film is rich with allusions to current events in Hong Kong, and is one of a handful of recent movies tapping into a sense of collective confusion and anger over the future.
“After Hong Kong joined China, many things have changed in our town,” Chan said on the sidelines of the 16th Far East film Festival in the northern Italian city of Udine. “That’s why I included in my film elements that have to do with politics.”
Under an agreement between Britain and China, the “One Country, Two Systems” maxim would see the territory retain its semi-autonomous status and enshrine civil liberties.
The mood has soured since 1997. Protests are a frequent sight amid perceived erosions to Hong Kong’s status, a sense of declining press freedom and fears that Beijing will row back on promises that the city will see a transition to universal suffrage by 2017.
This has been coupled with a rising tide of anti-mainland Chinese sentiment as Hong Kong experiences a yearly influx of about 40 million mainland visitors.
Chan references both issues in “The Midnight After,” which makes some subtle jibes at Hong Kong’s political leadership and touches on a perceived marginalization of Hongkongers within their own city, where a soaring property market is out of reach for many.
Chan, 55, has long been one of his city’s most socially aware directors in examining the effects that the handover was having on the lives of everyday people. Chan said audiences in Hong Kong have become increasingly politicized since 1997.
“There’s been a great reaction to the film, many debates, many opinions raised by it. The change was not in my approach, the change was in the audience.
“Other audiences might not understand everything that is going on in the film, but we hope it can help inform them about our city.”
“The Midnight After” is one of a number of current Hong Kong productions steeped in nostalgia for a city – or even a society – filmmakers feel is fading from view.
Pang Ho-cheung’s yet-to-be-released drama “Aberdeen” is another, and one that highlights through its characters a collective confusion about what the future will hold.
The bawdy comedy “Golden Chickensss” makes constant reference to the effects “mainlandization” is having on the city in which it is set.
Chan welcomes the trend and hopes the city’s next generation of filmmakers will follow suit.
“Young filmmakers all want to be commercial straight away,” he said. “But I am saying to them, make a short film and tell your stories first. Don’t rush. Talk about people before you rush around and make action films.”