Debut director Zahir Omar’s new movie hits the ground running in Fly By Night, host to a provocative tale about a gang of thieves, a relentless detective with a not-so-squeaky-clean past, and essentially, a woman scorned. It’s a story of honor among some pretty seedy and selfish people, few of whom bear lighter shades of grey than the rest.
Packaged with a robust music score directed by Zane Adam, Fly By Night takes off with a stylish introductory into the neon-lit residential streets of Kuala Lumpur. We meet Tailo (Sunny Pang), the meticulous ringleader of an extortion racket he runs through his cab service that only targets high-end victims.
Joined by close friend and ex-con Ah Soon (Eric Chen), they convene with Gwai Lo (Jack Tan) and Tailo’s younger brother, Sailo (Fabian Loo) to organize and extort an unsuspecting “Dato” (Ideil Putra) whose wife handles all his money. Dogged KL detective Kamal (Bront Palarae) starts digging when he gets wind of the robbery, and the first clue he finds proves troublesome for Michelle (Ruby Faye), the taxi clerk who is in on the action.
Her husband, the hot-headed Sailo, is unmoved by her concern and has since grown frustrated by Tailo’s lack of trust. Tailo decides to scale back just as Sailo moves forward with a bold plan for a seemingly bigger prospect in reach with Gwai Lo’s help. The target? A beautiful mistress named Reanne (Joyce Harn), whose illcit affair with the rich head of a jewelry firm, Marcus (Shaun Chen), much to her chagrin, has run its course. Needless to say, she’s been jilted, and with vengeance on her mind, she’s got plans of her own.
While his young brother deals with the increasing complications of his latest prospect, Tailo tries his best to keep up appearances knowing the cops are getting close. What happens next is the last thing the team needs at this stage as the incorrigible Sailo has apparently gotten into hot water with Jared (Frederick Lee), a local gangster with no compunction about torture and murder.
Following a deadly brawl at his night club and casino, Jared wants compensation due to Sailo’s unruly behavior, on top of the debts owed by him and Gwai Lo. The crew only has a few days to act and too with many outliers in play, it’s only a matter of time before blood is spilled, and Tailo will have to play the only card he has left to protect the people he loves.
One of the winning recipients of last year’s Asian Cinema Fund from the Busan International Film Festival organization, Omar crafts a stimulating feature debut with fine cast performances, an intriguing story with consequential outcomes and a brilliant script to boot.
Pang hands viewers one of the finest performances of his career since delivering hits like James Lee’s award-winning 2012 action comedy, The Collector, and his 2016 coming-out party with Iko Uwais actioner, Headshot. Pang’s Tailo is stoic and vulnerable at times, and respectful of traditions. He’s disciplined, an organizer, and never buckles under pressure, even when confronted by Jared, played with gusto by the aforementioned Lee.
Some Pang’s his best scenes are shared with Palarae who plays the tenacious Kamal whose own skeletons are yet to be revealed. Kamal is cunning, incorruptible and for what its worth, is seemingly the kind of cop who always gets his man. Watching him stalk Tailo’s crew, you admire how he’s the smartest guy in the room. His is the character you love to hate at times, and by the end you’ll hate him so much you’ll be purely fascinated.
The only two female roles on hand, Michelle and Reanne, each share their own weight in affecting our characters, but it’s the latter that reigns in the most by the second half when the action heats up. At this point, it’s the proverbial monkey wrench being thrown in, setting the pace accordingly for all the moving pieces in play with at least one piece revealed at the end.
Therein lies the prevalent danger that occurs in at least two of the film’s biggest action sequences, one at Jared’s club, and the other on the busy streets of Kuala Lumpur with a high speed chase between cars and a motorcycle. Keong Low’s cinematography mirrors a lot of what one might find in a few other crime thrillers. There are echoes of lensing from filmmakers like Den Of Thieves’ Christian Gudegast and even late Hong Kong auteur Ringo Lam.
Discernible age and generational differences among our lead quartet measure about as visibly as the wealth gap between our characters, but the film doesn’t focus much on the latter – It’s foundational to the story at hand, but it’s merely an ingredient to the film’s culmination in whole.
At the forefront of Live By Night is something much more foreboding and resultant in nature. It’s worth bearing this in mind going from the top of the film where Tailo and Ah Soon meet up amid dusk and trade blurbs over Tailo’s fear of flying. This lends a more chilling air to the film’s exit where all the hard lessons are only just beginning to affect those who are left standing.
Fly By Night had its screening as part of the New York Asian Film Festival’s first-ever Winter Showcase which launched on February 1 at the SVA Theatre in New York City.