J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, September 19, 2016

HK Cinema at SFFS '16: Insanity

You would think Hong Kong would be tougher when it comes to criminal insanity defenses, but Fan Kwok Sang still manages to beat the rap for killing his wife by pleading temporarily nuts. His good luck continues when he is placed under the care of the highly esteemed Dr. Chow Ming-kit, who cures him in three years. Or does he? Chow will start to wonder when Fan gets involved with another suspicious death in David Lee’s Insanity (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Hong Kong Cinema at the San Francisco Film Society.

The trauma of losing his son essentially broke Fan’s grip on reality. Suffering from extreme paranoid schizophrenia, he finally just snapped, defenestrating his long suffering wife from their apartment window. Dr. Chow eventually pieced together his fractured psyche and proscribed a full battery of anti-psychotics to keep them glued in place. Being ever so progressive, Dr. Chow periodically checks in with Fan. Usually that means dropping by the restaurant where Fan works with his grossly under-appreciated fiancée, Shum Po-yee.

When Fan accidentally kills a creepy homeless guy on the roof of his building, Dr. Chow is his first call. Fearing the scandal of a supposedly cured patient committing a homicide (justifiable or not), Chow encourages him to take flight. Oh by the way, Fan just happened to mention he’d stopped taking his meds. As the cops start swarming and his colleagues’ suspicions mount, Chow decides to cure Fan once and for all, with special round-the-clock one-on-one immersion treatments. Of course, there will be unforeseen complications to their marathon analysis session.

Frankly, anyone who has seen a lot of psychological thrillers should be about twenty minutes ahead of the script (co-written by Lee, Bullet Vanishes helmer Law Chi-leung, and uber-producer-director Derek Yee). However, the first-rate work of Sean Lau Ching-wan as Fan still makes it worth the price of admission. It is a remarkable performance, implying much under vastly differing circumstances. Yet, he is always so tragically human and sad. Mainland superstar Huang Xiaoming also stresses out pretty impressively, but Nina Paw Hee-ching might out do both of them as Fan’s unhinged mother-in-law. Plus, Michelle Wai adds some red hot nuttiness in a memorable extended cameo as Mona, the patient who develops an unhealthy attachment to Dr. Chow. Fortunately, Alex Fong is also on hand to keep things real as Chow’s deputy-rival, Dr. Liu.

Even if you have a hunch where Insanity is going, it is still entertaining to watch Lee and his cast revel in the conventions and trappings of the genre. Chan Chi-ying duly cranks up the noir with his atmospheric cinematography, in the Robert Burks tradition. At times it is almost shamelessly over the top, but that is part of the fun. Recommended for fans of head-spinning head-shrinker thrillers, Insanity screens this Friday night (9/23) as part of the SFFS’s annual Hong Kong Cinema series.

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