Monday, December 11, 2023

In Broad Daylight

I don't really have a whole lot to say about this movie - it is, like 90% of what manages to make its way to multiplex screens, reasonably watchable, if not always exceptional, and I suspect that the challenge of being a movie critic for a publication over the long haul is finding ways to say "eh, it's fine" without looking like you're slacking off or giving into hyperbole - but I do kind of want to publicly scratch my head a bit over what AMC is doing with movies like this in Boston right now.

Firstly, it's the second Chinese film to release here since AMC re-opened the Causeway Street multiplex that had started as an Arclight, rather than on the Common, and I don't quite understand the thinking there; Boston Common is right next to Chinatown, and while North Station is just three stops or so along the Orange Line, it's odd to move specialty films away from their audience like that, although for all I know there's an audience for it near North Station that I don't see because it's not actually named "Chinatown". It might also be the case that as they ramp up Causeway Street, the chain putting the niche material there as they build up - this place doesn't seem to be as obviously hobbled by being under-staffed as the Alamo in the Seaport is, but it is awful quiet every time I go.

(The apparent trouble they're having getting enough people to fully open at the Seaport is something else again!)

Second, there are a lot of things that have been getting weekend-only shows over the past few months - Eras is the big one, but also Renaissance and Waitress: The Musical in recent weeks, and as much as I expect them to sort of cannibalize the smaller movies like this first during the weekend days, it's weird to me that these don't get more chance to find audiences during the week. But, no - it's playing at 5:30pm on Monday and Tuesday and 4:30pm on Wednesday, so not much chance to capitalize on any word of mouth it might have generated, or give folks who can't see it on the weekend an opportunity to catch it.

In summary I don't get what's going on in terms of assigning things showtimes any more, but it feels like it's becoming harder to see specialty films even when it should be easier.

In Broad Daylight

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 December 2023 in AMC Causeway #8 (first-run, laser DCP)

More often than not, In Broad Daylight seems to slide comfortably into that category of earnest movies focusing on a societal ill that one might worry about its earnest intentions being its greatest asset: It drops "based on a true story" on the audience right away, its style isn't particularly slick or an electrifying documentary realism, and it's focused on the facts of the case more than the other ideas that are a part of the telling. On the other hand, its un-remarkability can often be an asset, letting filmmaker Lawrence Kan Kwan-Chun do some interesting things on the edges and often reining in potential excesses.

As it starts, Ling Hiu-Kay (Jennifer Yu Heung-Ying) arrives at Rainbow Bridge Care Home to visit grandfather Chow Kin-Tung (David Chiang Da-Wei), having just come to Hong Kong for a few weeks' stay after being in Canada for a decade, which is why the deteriorating Tung wouldn't recognize Kay. Seeing how woefully understaffed the place is, with nearly 80 residents but only manager Cheung Kim-Wah (Bowie Lam Bo-Yi), Miss Ho (Mimi Kung Chi-Yan) and a second nurse on staff, she offers to come in and help, getting to know the residents. Except, she's not Tung's granddaughter at all - she's a reporter known as the "Queen of Undercover" in her newsroom, where she and a team including Leung (Leung Chung Hang) and rookie Jess (Hui Yuet-Sheung) are acting on a tip from a former nurse, and also learning how many of the care homes in Hong Kong are over-crowded and not technically licensed, although the Social Welfare Division has never revoked a license or a waiver.

Kay also has some drama at home, as her grandfather has recently died and butting heads with her mother (Pau Hei-Ching) has her a little more apt to consider the idea of how taking care of one's family can be a burden too big to bear, despite her typical objective detachment. Though Kan almost never minimizes the abuse and failure of the social safety net in order to focus on Kay's personal turmoil, he and Jennifer Yu make sure that there's always enough going on with Kay to make scenes interesting There are moments when her placid visage reveals a reporter who has a killer instinct, and her growing affection for Tung and the rest of the residents interacts with her professionalism in more interesting ways than simply turning her back on it. It's an interesting pairing with David Chiang, who I suspect has attained That Guy status in Hong Kong - Tung is maybe not so senile as he seems, which means that most scenes with Chiang and Yu are two people maintaining a mask, but smart enough to see through them and giving the audience a chance to muse on whether the bond forming is between the people they pretend to be or the actual selves underneath.

There's a train of thought that would make this the most important part of the film, and it is almost certainly the part that the cast finds most interesting to work with, but Kan mostly uses it as flavor for the rest. He doesn't necessarily find the right balance of tones where he can make the viewers shocked and angry at the abuse of the society's most vulnerable without also delivering a sort of thrill at seeing horrible things depicted or allowing the audience to sink back into complacency as bland statistics are recited, but he does better than most, especially with an ending that highlights how feeling bad and maybe taking one small step can mostly cause negative disruption, and if if many of the performances for the mentally-handicapped characters is broad, they mostly favor how this is an unsettling thing to have as part of one's life as opposed to a hammy innocence. There may be moments when the film feels more exploitative than informative, but there's at least an awareness of the line.

A strong supporting thread is the general nervousness about the future of journalism; newspapers in Hong Kong are in an especially perilous position and there's a sort of hum in the background about how the owner of "A1 News" isn't particularly interested in this story, or if there will be another one after it; and editor asks Jess why she didn't become an entertainment reporter. Kay and her group are clearly frustrated at how this thing in which they've invested weeks or months of hard work will be a quick flash with only minimal impact even when throngs of reporters are mobbing Cheung Kim-Wah. There's an interesting scene toward the end when Kay is moving through the newsroom and the motion detectors seem inverted, turning out the lights as she passes, a symbol of reporters pressing ahead as the business shutters.

It all ties together reasonably well - everything in Kay's life is hollowing out, whether it be her workplace, her target, or her family, and there's frustration as she tries to continue to do important work. This never overshadows the outright abuse, but it at least allows Kan to paint a picture of a system that's failing on multiple levels even as he focuses on one specific set of crimes: Even if Rainbow Bridge shuts down, there will still be much work to do.

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