Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 12:07 pm 
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Seeking to regain mental balance in a cramped Hong Kong tenement

Wong Chun's much praised low budget ($258K) Hong Kong feature directorial debut with screenplay by Florence Chan Chor-hang focuses on Tung (Shawn Yue), a stockbroker whose bipolar disorder has caused him to crash. He is released from a psychiatric hospital, then is taken in under orders of the hospital by his estranged truck driver father (everyman type Eric Tsang Chi-wai) to stay in his tiny one-room tenement apartment. Domestic drama, past and present, ensues.

Right now, it seems tough for someone bipolar to be a stockbroker when financial crisis layoffs are causing many of the "normal" ones to commit suicide, including one of Tung's closest business associates. Flashbacks show how Tung struggled to care on his own for his bedridden, mentally unbalanced and verbally abusive mom (Elaine Jin, in a melodramatic performance), a task that largely triggered his breakdown, and revisit his relationship with his fiancée Jenny (Charmaine Fong), whom he drove away in a fight over caring for his mother. A big fight in the present moment brings out Tung's deep resentments over his dad's suddenly abandoning the family when he was very young.

The film, innovative for Hong Kong, fills in rich background on Tung's life: but the filling in tends to dampen the punch of the present-day narrative of his current struggle to cope. Moreover there are some segments that are excessive and tasteless, particularly a weepy confession by Jenny of her grievances against Tung at her born-again church, with Tung present. It's a passive-aggressive abuse-by-"forgiveness" rant that reads as a tiresomely heavy-handed attack on fake Christian piety.

Nonetheless restrained, well-modulated job by Yue, usually a pretty-boy star doing serious stuff here depicting Tung's modd-shifts, makes this primarily successful as a character-driven drama with a realistic look at the poor side of Hong Kong and its financial issues at every level. The film also alludes to the terrible pressures of being an investment banker and the dire shortcomings of the health care system, and to cyber-bullying Tung must endure after his fall from grace. Perhaps its final message is what Tung's father learns: "Everything in life can't be outsourced."

Unfortunately, Wong Chun rather tends to undercut the power of his presentation of both Tung's personal issues and of the contemporary urban Hong Kong nightmare with all the complicated back-and forth shifting between present and the past. This typically modern ADD film editing technique tries to show and to tell too much. But this is still an interesting contribution to the usually genre-heavy Hong Kong cinema and worth a watch for students of it and of the aspects of Hong Kong life depicted here. I'm not sure Clarence Tsui's quite justified in calling this film "audaciously unshowy" in his Hollywood Reporter review - but the topic is audaciously serious.

Mad World (Mandarin: 一念無明), in Cantonese, 121 mins., released 8 Sept. 2016, at Toronto; won Best Supporting Actress and Best New Director at Taipei Golden Horse Festival, with numerous other Asian festival nominations and awards; theatrical release Hong Kong 30 Mar. 2017. Reviewed for NYAFF, New York Premiere: Q&A with director Wong Chun, screenwriter Florence Chan, and actor Eric Tsang, who will receive the NYAFF 2017 Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award. showtime 12 Jul. 2017 9 pm at Walter Reade Theater.
9:00 PM

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