Review: VICTIM 目露凶光 (1999) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Review: VICTIM 目露凶光 (1999)

Review: VICTIM 目露凶光 (1999)

VICTIM opens in a gruesome manner where one night, a parking garage attendant hears two shots echoes on the parking lot above. Moments later a van comes speeding forward and brutally runs him over before fleeing the scene. The police are called to the scene with Inspector Pit (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) in charge for the case. During his investigation, he quickly discovers an abandoned car belongs to a mild-mannered computer engineer named Ma Man-Sun (Lau Ching-Wan). The surveillance tape in the parking lot shows that Ma is being kidnapped by two unknown assailants. Pit and his team eventually brought in Ma's girlfriend, Amy (Amy Kwok, and Lau's real-life spouse) for questioning. According to Amy, Ma had been unemployed for some time and he owes a lot of debts. Not long after, Pit receives a call from the kidnappers saying that Ma has been released and can be found in an old abandoned hotel. Apparently, that particular building is widely believed to be haunted, following from a notorious history where the owner discovered his wife was unfaithful. He decapitated her before poisoning himself and his son. Once there, Pit eventually locates Ma who is found hanging upside down with a chain above the ceiling, -- alive but badly bruised. Ma is subsequently brought back for questioning, but he behaves very mysteriously and hardly speaks at all. Could he be possessed by the ghost in the haunted hotel or is there a different agenda altogether?

REVIEW: A radical departure of sorts from his usual offering (read: crime thriller), Ringo Lam's VICTIM is a genre mishmash of psychodrama, mystery, and thriller with supernatural undertones. By the way, Hong Kong cinema is no stranger of mixing different tones into one movie but the result can be haphazard or uneven if poorly executed. Fortunately, Ringo Lam succeeds in delivering most of the mixed elements. While VICTIM doesn't exactly qualify as an all-round satisfying experience, it's an exhilarating genre thriller nonetheless.

Joe Ma and Ho Man-Lung's screenplay is full of unexpected twists and brilliantly structured to keep the viewers guessing what really makes Ma changes from a mild-mannered to a completely different person altogether. Along with Ringo Lam's taut direction, the mystery is revealed sparingly and he knows well how to toy around his mixed genre. Likewise, he blends especially well when comes to his gritty trademarks -- evidently in the quietly intense opening sequence, the dramatic car chase along the winding road, the shootout at a cramped flat, and the violent finale at the mint). Blessed with Aussie cinematographer Ross Clarkson's terrific lensing that gives the edgy feel associated with Lam's trademark as well as Andy Chan's tight editing and Raymond Wong's pulse-pounding music score, the movie is certainly top-notch.

However, Ringo Lam falters a bit when comes to handling supernatural element. While the scene involving Pit searching around the haunted hotel is genuinely creepy, the same cannot be said for Lam's overall execution -- which feels somewhat disjointed and lacklustre. Then there's the revelation about Ma's true nature of his behavioural change. The payoff isn't as good as I hoped for, given all the intriguing aspects going on throughout the movie.

Acting-wise, Lau Ching-Wan gives an award-worthy performance as the traumatised Ma -- a radical departure from his usual good-guy roles he is always known for. Thanks to his well-calibrated performance, he is best seen when he becomes increasingly unpredictable throughout the course of the movie. The way he acts either possessed, mad or manipulative is what keeps his character so remarkably interesting to watch for right until the revealing finale. Co-star Tony Leung Ka-Fai is also solid and engaging as a burnt-out, workaholic cop with a family issue, while Amy Kwok is exceptionally good in what could have been a thankless role as Ma's estranged wife.

Do note that VICTIM contains two different theatrical versions -- a first for Hong Kong cinema. 50% of the release prints has an extra shot in the final scene whether or not Ma was possessed by a ghost. And in another 50%, that particular question was left unanswered. During that time, viewers were given no advance info on either version was showing at which theatres would be screened.

A disjointed but intriguing mix of psychodrama, mystery and thriller with a supernatural twist, Ringo Lam's VICTIM is a genre hybrid worth checking out for.

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