A stanch exposé of real-life injustice, When Night Falls dramatises the plight of Wang Jimnei, whose son Yang Jia was convicted of killing seven police officers following an earlier arrest for a petty misdemeanour. During his trial (and subsequent appeals), Yang’s mother was committed to a mental hospital under false pretences, preventing her from offering emotional or judicial support; by the time she was freed, Yang’s execution was a fait accompli.
These details are imparted early, in a detached but inventive opening
sequence consisting of a photograph montage and matter-of-fact
voiceover. The core drama then picks up Wang’s story the day she is
discharged from hospital, with writer/director Ying Liang adopting a
realist, docudrama aesthetic of naturally-lit, fixed-angle shots, with
few edits to interrupt the raw emotions. Throughout, our perspective on
events is carefully restricted (we don’t know why Yang did what he did
precisely because, tragically, Wang doesn’t either – and indeed, never
will), while Nai An is superb in the central role, conveying a grief
compounded by impotence and – like the film itself – exuding a muted
dignity despite the anger simmering inside.