Review: ‘Gone in the Night’ (2022), starring Winona Ryder

August 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

John Gallagher Jr. and Winona Ryder in “Gone in the Night” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Gone in the Night” (2022)

Directed by Eli Horowitz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sonoma County, California, the dramatic film “Gone in the Night” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman’s boyfriend abruptly disappears after they’ve rented a vacation cabin in a remote wooded area, and she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to him. 

Culture Audience: “Gone in the Night” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Winona Ryder and don’t mind watching a dull, convoluted and insipid mystery.

Dermot Mulroney in “Gone in the Night” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Gone in the Night” is supposed to be a mystery thriller. But the only baffling mystery is how anyone involved in this tepid and messy dud of a movie thought that it was worth getting made. Winona Ryder fans, you’ve been warned. “Gone in the Night” is one of the worst movies she’s ever done. Not only is Ryder’s talent completely misused and squandered in this wasteland of a film, but all of the cast members are also stuck portraying hollow characters in a sluggish story with a moronic ending.

Directed by Eli Horowitz (who co-wrote the terrible “Gone in the Night” screenplay with Matthew Derby), “Gone in the Night” (originally titled “The Cow”) had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The change in the movie’s title is the only improvement made to this creatively bankrupt slog of a film, which has barely enough of a story to fill a short film. The reason why the original title was “The Cow” is explained in the last 15 minutes of the movie.

“Gone in the Night” is not a horror movie, although it might try to fool people that it is if you’ve seen some of the movie’s publicity images of Ryder in character, looking terrified with blood spatter on her face. The first third of the film takes place in that constant horror cliché: a house in an isolated wooded area. But don’t expect anything scary to happen in this cabin in the woods.

The monotony of “Gone in the Night” begins with an unmarried couple driving at night to said cabin in the woods, which is located in an unnamed city in Sonoma County, California. (“Gone in the Night” was filmed on location in Sonoma County.) Kath (played by Ryder) is introverted and cautious. Max (played by John Gallagher Jr.) is extroverted and a risk-taker. Their contrasting personalities are on display when they encounter a problem after arriving during the night at their rental cabin, which they got through an unnamed service that sounds like Airbnb.

Kath and Max find out that another couple got booked for the same cabin at the same time. And neither couple wants to leave. At first, Kath wants to leave, since she’s the only one in this couple who has a driver’s license. But then, Kath changes her mind because Max wants to stay, and Kath doesn’t want to drive at night.

The other couple at this cabin are Al (played by Owen Teague) and Greta (played by Brianne Tju), who are both in their 20s. Kath is in her early 50s, while Max is in his late 30s. Kath and Max have been dating each other for about one year, which is the same period of time that Al and Greta have been a couple. It’s mentioned later in the story that Kath (a continuing education teacher) met Max when he was a student in her hydroponics class.

Right from the beginning, it’s obvious that something is off-kilter about Al and Greta, who both wear matching green rain ponchos. Al is a little hostile about the booking mixup, but Greta convinces Al it would be okay to let Kath and Max temporarily stay in a spare room for the night. This is the part of the movie where things could get intriguing. Instead, “Gone in the Night” fizzles and never recovers.

“Gone in the Night” is so shoddily written, not much else is revealed about these two couples during the time that they spend together and have boring conversations. At one point, it’s mentioned that Al and Greta are in an unconventional relationship. Kath mentions that she tried being married once but she didn’t like it. The two couples find a board game called Pillow Talkers, which is supposed to encourage intimacy. Players of the game read cards that dare them to do something semi-erotic.

All it results in is a not-very-interesting scene where a card is read saying, “The elbow is an erogenous zone. Prove it.” And then, Greta licks and kisses Max’s elbow. Kath and Al watch with some discomfort, as Greta and Max mildly flirt and laugh with each other for the rest of the game. Kath eventually has enough and announces that she’s going to go to sleep.

The next day, Kath finds a distressed-looking Al in the woods. Al tells Kath, “They’re gone. Your fucking dude was groping my girlfriend … And they ran off.” And this is where “Gone in the Night” slides further into idiocy. Instead of looking for Max to find out for herself what’s going on with him, Kath goes back to the cabin and assumes that Max’s disappearance is his way of dumping her. She’s very nonchalant (and ignorant) about not caring to find out if what Al said is true.

Instead of finding out what happened, Kath just goes home and complains to her friend Laurel (played by Yvonne Senat Jones) that she’s better off without Max. “It felt like effort,” Kath says of dating Max. “I’m done with effort.” That also describes the “Gone in the Night” filmmakers’ attitude toward crafting a good story for this movie.

After not hearing from Max for a number of days, Kath finally gets an inkling that maybe something is really wrong with Max’s disappearance. Instead of using common sense and contacting Max’s family members and/or friends to find out where he is, Kath calls the owner of the cabin—57-year-old Nicholas Levi Barlow (played by Dermot Mulroney—to try and find out Greta’s address. It’s a dimwitted decision because there’s no guarantee that Max is with Greta at Greta’s address.

Kath’s lie is that Greta left a book behind in the cabin, and Kath wants to return the book to Greta. Its a badly thought-out-fabrication because Nicholas says he doesn’t want to violate Greta’s privacy by giving out her home address, so he offers to give the book to Greta if Kath will give the book to him. Caught in this lie, Kath then admits she wants Greta’s address because she heard that Greta and Max ran off together.

The movie gets even more ludicrous when Nicholas offers to help Kath play detective to find Greta and Max. The rest of “Gone in the Night” consists of embarrassingly dimwitted and tedious scenes of Nicholas and Kath snooping around and acting like stalkers until the full truth is revealed of what happened to Max and Greta. During this investigation, Nicholas crosses paths with a former business partner named Ramon (played by Alain Uy), who worked with Nicholas in a biotech start-up company.

There’s nothing remarkable about anything in “Gone in the Night,” which drags on and on until the movie’s witless ending. The last 15 minutes of the movie give the impression that screenwriters Horowitz and Derby weren’t quite sure how to end the story and rushed through some sloppy thoughts because they wanted to finish the screenplay by a certain time. All of the cast members look like they’re going through the motions. The only motions that viewers will feel compelled to take while watching “Gone in the Night” are falling asleep, or finding ways to endure watching this slow-moving train wreck until the bitter end.

Vertical Entertainment released “Gone in the Night” in select U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 2, 2022.

Review: ‘The Paper Tigers,’ starring Alain Uy, Ron Yuan and Mykel Shannon Jenkins

May 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron Yuan, Alain Uy and Mykel Shannon Jenkins in “The Paper Tigers” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Paper Tigers”

Directed by Tran Quoc Bao

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the male-centric action dramedy “The Paper Tigers” features a predominantly Asian cast (with some African Americans and white people) representing the middle-class, working class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Three middle-aged men, who used to be friends and aspiring kung fu masters in their youth, reunite after their former mentor dies, and they investigate their suspicions that their ex-instructor did not die of natural causes.

Culture Audience: “The Paper Tigers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching an unconventional kung fu movie that includes a murder mystery and touches of goofy comedy.

Matthew Page and Mykel Shannon Jenkins in “The Paper Tigers” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Paper Tigers” plays with kung fu tropes and upends a lot of these stereotypes with a story that skillfully blends gripping action, emotional authenticity and the right amount of comic relief. Written and directed by Tran Quoc Bao, “Paper Tigers” (which was funded largely through a Kickstarter campaign) is the type of film that perhaps could only have been made independently, because it tells a story that major movie studios don’t seem interested in telling: What it’s like for middle-aged men to get back into the kung fu fighting that they loved in their youth. Some of the movie’s pacing drags at times, and the dialogue can be occasionally over-simplistic, but these minor flaws are outweighed by a story that is very entertaining overall.

“The Paper Tigers,” which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, begins with a nighttime scene that serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story: A restaurant cook named Sifu Cheung (played by Roger Yuan) is in a physical fight with an unseen assailant in the back alley of the restaurant. The attacker makes some kung fu moves on him, including a deadly move that’s later described in the film as “poison fingers.” Sifu Cheung succumbs to this fatal blow and dies alone in the alley.

Who was Sifu Cheung? As shown in flashbacks presented as old home video footage throughout the movie, he used to mentor three special kung fu disciples: Danny, Hing and Jim, who were all classmates in the same school. Sifu Cheung began giving them private after-school lessons in 1986, when the boys were about 10 years old. Danny is considered to be the most talented, Hing is the jokester of the group, and Jim is the most dedicated student of kung fu. The actors portraying the boys during this time period are Kieran Tamondong as Danny, Bryan Kinder as Hing and Malakai James as Jim.

Sifu Cheung, whose background is kept vague and mysterious in the movie, was working as a restaurant cook for years as his day job. The restaurant where he died in the back alley is the same restaurant where he worked at in the 1980s when he began teaching kung fu to Danny, Hing and Jim. It’s never explained why Sifu Cheung is working as a restaurant cook instead of having a professional job in kung fu, but the way it’s described in the movie, he’s too humble to seek glory for himself.

However, he’s a local kung fu legend among people in the community. And being mentored by Sifu Cheung is considered to be a very high honor. Sifu Cheung likes to teach kung fu lessons to boys (there’s no mention of him having any female students), and only a chosen few are considered to be his special protégés. Danny, Hing and Jim were Sifu Cheung’s last-known protégés. And the three boys were given the nickname the Three Tigers.

The Three Tigers have a nemesis named Carter, who is a relentless bully and a wannabe kung fu master. One of the reasons why the boys want to take kung fu lessons is so they can defend themselves against Carter. By 1993, when the boys were teenagers, they’re good enough at kung fu to defeat Carter in kung fu battles. The actors portraying the teenagers during this time period are Yoshi Sudarso as Danny, Peter Adrian Sudarso as Hing, Gui DaSilva-Greene as Jim and Mark Poletti as Carter.

Danny does so well in kung fu that he’s accepted to participate in a major kung fu tournament in Japan. Jim also goes on the trip as Danny’s backup, in case Danny gets an injury and can’t compete in the tournament. When the teens find out that they’ve been accepted to be in this tournament, they’re naturally elated. However, it’s revealed later in the story that Sifu Cheung disapproves of his disciples participating in these types of competitions because he thinks prize money corrupts the honor of kung fu fighters.

The camaraderie between the the Three Tigers fell apart because of something happened during this tournament that caused a major falling out between Danny and Jim. It’s eventually revealed in the movie what happened to cause this rift. Hing, who was caught in the middle of this feud, didn’t want to take sides. And all three friends drifted apart soon afterward. It’s mentioned later in the story that Danny, Jim and Hing also became alienated from Sifu Cheung because he was angry about Danny and Jim’s participation in the tournament, and he became disillusioned over teaching kung fu.

In the present day, “Paper Tigers” is told from Danny’s perspective. He is now a divorced dad in his 40s who works in insurance. And he left kung fu behind a long time ago, ever since that tournament in Japan that caused the end of his friendship with Jim. Danny and his ex-wife Caryn (played by Jae Suh Park) have a tense relationship because she thinks Danny is too flaky when it comes to spending time with their sensitive and adorable son Ed (played by Joziah Lagonoy), who’s about 9 or 10 years old.

It’s mentioned several times in the movie that Danny and Caryn have agreed to joint custody of Ed. However, for whatever reason, the movie only depicts Danny having weekend visitations. Maybe the arrangement is that Ed lives full-time with Danny for part of the year and lives full-time with Caryn for the other part of the year.

Whatever the arrangement is, it’s not working out the way that Caryn wants because Danny frequently lets his job take precedence over taking care of Ed. In one of the movie’s scenes, Danny is late to pick up Ed, and he knows that Caryn will be upset. In order to placate her and a disappointed Ed, Danny spontaneously tells Ed that they’re going to a nearby amusement park named Magicland. Caryn is skeptical that Danny can afford the cost (which is a hint that he has money problems), but Danny assures her that he can pay for everything.

And wouldn’t you know, just as Danny and an elated Ed are driving to Magicland, Danny gets a call from his job. And he ends up having to go into the office to do some weekend work. Danny is so embarrassed about this parental letdown that he asks Ed to lie to Caryn and tell her that they went to Magicland. It’s one of a few examples in the movie that show how unexpected things happen to Danny that test his parental skills and integrity.

It’s shown throughout the movie that Danny has become so disenchanted with kung fu, he doesn’t even really like to talk about it anymore. Before Danny was about to drive Ed to Magicland, they encountered an angry man named Tommy (played by Ray Hopper), who was about to pick a fight with Danny because Danny’s car was blocking Tommy’s car that wanted to exit the parking lot. The furious man began to show signs of physical aggression and made racist comments to Danny, who drove away without escalating the argument.

Danny uses this incident as a teachable moment to Ed. He tells his son: “A lot of boneheads think they can solve things with their fists, like that guy back there. You know what to do? You do what Dad did: Be the bigger man and walk away.” Danny brings up this incident after Ed asks him about some old kung fu photos of Danny that Ed had found. Danny avoids going into details with Ed about his kung fu past.

Danny finds out about Sifu Cheung’s death when Hing shows up unexpectedly at Danny’s house and tells him that Siefu Cheun died of a heart attack. They make plans to go to the funeral. The two former friends haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years, but they pick up right where they left off when they reunite. Danny only agrees to go to the funeral when he finds out from Hing that Jim won’t be there.

At the funeral, Danny and Hing see their old enemy Carter (played by Matthew Page), who brags that he was very close to Sifu Cheung. Danny and Hing know that the Three Tigers had a special relationship with Sifu Cheung that Carter never had. Carter is still very annoying and very insulting. He tells Hing: “You look like a fat Asian Mr. Rogers.” In his middle-age, Carter tries to come across as a kung fu master, with a lot of appropriation of Chinese culture.

During the funeral services, three obnoxious men in their late teens/early 20s go up to a large photo on display of Sifu Cheung. The three guys pose together in front of the photo and disrespectfully start taking selfies with their phones. Carter tells Danny and Hing to do something about this rudeness toward their former mentor, but Danny and Hing refuse, because they don’t want to cause any further trouble.

After this tacky selfie photo session, the three guys immediately leave the funeral service. Who are these jerks? They will be seen again later on in the movie because they will be part of one of the big kung fu showdowns in the story. This trio of thugs is led by arrogant Chief (played by Phillip Dang), whose sidekicks are Boi (played by Brian Le) and Fu (played by Andy Le). These goons might or might not have clues about Sifu Cheung’s real cause of death.

Hing is the first to express skepticism that Sifu Cheung did not die of natural causes. The official cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia. Hing doubts that Sifu Cheung, who was reportedly in great health, could have died this way. Danny, who works in insurance claims, says that it’s possible, since Sifu Cheung smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. Hing wants to investigate and Danny reluctantly goes along at first.

In order to gather information, Hing and Danny end up seeing Jim again. He works in a gym as a trainer to mixed-martial arts fighters. And unlike Danny and Hing, muscular Jim is in top athletic shape. The trio’s reunion starts out as awkward but eventually, they all agree that Sifu Cheung’s death is worth investigating. It’s also their way of honoring their former mentor because they feel guilty of never resolving their differences with Sifu Cheung before he died.

Some of the people whom Danny, Hing and Jim encounter during their amateur sleuthing are Sifu Wong (played by Raymond Ma), who was a longtime close friend of Sifu Cheung; Ray (played by La’Tevin Alexander), one of Jim’s MMA fighter trainees; and Zhen Fan (played by Ken Quitugua), who kung fu fighter in his 30s who is said to have been one of the last people mentored by Sifu Cheung. Carter tries to insert himself into the investigation, and he might or might not be helpful

“The Paper Tigers” gets a lot of mileage out of poking fun at how out-of-shape Danny and Hing are when they do their inevitable kung fu fights. Hing also has a bad right knee. Jim is in great shape, but his hindrance is that he hasn’t done kung fu in years, so there are moments when he forgets what to do in kung fu and resorts to MMA techniques. And all three man aren’t as nimble and fast as they used to be.

The fight scenes are well-done and often comical. Quitugua was also the action director/fight choreographer in “Paper Tigers.” And his fight scenes in the movie (not surprisingly) stand out the most. Even though some of the fights veer into slapstick comedy territory, the injuries are not glossed over too much. There’s a point in the movie when one of the Three Tigers can’t do any more fighting because he’s too injured.

All of the actors do a fine job with their roles. But because Danny has the most character development and backstory of his adult life, Uy’s portrayal of Danny is the most memorable. Ron Yuan and Jenkins also do quite well in their roles, especially in their comical banter. Bao provides solid direction, and he has a keen sense of knowing how to bring humor to intense fight scenes.

Where the movie’s screenplay falls short is in its lack of well-rounded female characters. Caryn is really the only woman who has a significant speaking role in the movie. And frankly, her character is portrayed as disapproving and bitter. “The Paper Tigers” isn’t a misogynistic film, but it could have done a lot better in presenting a variety of female characters instead of this unrealistic bubble where more than 90% of the people who exist and get to speak are male.

Of course, the Three Tigers’ return to kung fu fighting is about more than reliving their youth. It’s about confronting their past and coming to terms with who they’ve become as adults. Solving the mystery of Sifu Cheung’s death is a part of that journey. But, in its own way, “The Paper Tigers” is a coming-of-age in middle-age story. It’s about facing fear—not fear of what other people can do to you but the fear of not living up to your potential.

Well Go USA released “The Paper Tigers” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on May 7, 2021.

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