by: Lawrence Cheng
the DVD at:
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1994:
As with the director of A Fishy Story (that we looked at last week), Anthony Chan, the man behind Murder is not content either with just working behind the camera. No, Lawrence Cheng both provides supporting turns, gets starring roles, produces and directs, all with varying results. His presence in movies though leans more towards annoying and geeky than anything else. Something happened though in between the UFO produced movies He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father and Tom, Dick & Hairy. Murder was conceived and released onto an unsuspecting audience and it not only received a best supporting actress nomination for Deannie Yip but something Lawrence Cheng normally isn't associated with, acclaim.
Mr. Lau (Damian Lau) works as a businessman and has laundered 10 million dollars worth of money with the Thai mob. His wife (Carol Cheng), a immoral lawyer finds out about this and stashes the money away from her husband. Money that is now due back. When confronting her, Mr. Lau puts a bullet into her head but miraculously she survives, only now she suffers from memory loss. When eventually released from hospital, she is put into the "caring" hands of not only her increasingly desperate husband but also nurse Ma (Deannie Yip). A previous client of Mrs. Lau, Ma holds a grudge against her after a court case where Mrs. Lau consciously didn't submit a crucial piece of evidence that would've cleared Ma of any charges. The nightmare begins therefore for Mrs. Yau...
Murder comes with much effectiveness in its opening act, establishing the Hong Kong people we encounter as stone cold and where harsh emotions are so close to the boiling point, that violent acts doesn't seem to far away. With that, director Cheng draws us nicely into this generally pleasing thriller effort that suffers from few little bad executed traits and from the fact that it can't live up to that opening act.
Cheng, co-writing with Yip Kwong Kim and Wong Man Yue, never really pretends to draw out characters in the strongest of ways but establishment is workable, even though a bit of subtlety would've helped in regards to the coldness of Carol Cheng's character in particular. Murder of course takes cues from the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, and with its almost 100% seriousness, we're pretty well drawn into it by the time the main plot kicks in. Through both jarring visuals and stillness, Cheng achieves a commendable aura of tension and when the first drop of blood is shed, it's really superbly shocking in many ways.
I wouldn't say the movie derails but it definitely saves its suspense for select moments rather than supply a horrific atmosphere throughout. Cheng gives the rather simple character arcs enough time to continue to breathe as the story goes on and the desperation from Lau's character becomes a decent driving force. That's the thing, Murder comes from Hong Kong cinema. A cinema that really is better at other genres than suspense so it feels like the filmmakers are more modest and careful so you're not going experience breathtaking tension akin to one of my favourite thrillers Bound for instance. Few surprises are handed out but one that initially was a criticism becomes a benefactor for the movie. This is in regards to Deannie Yip's character who of course is on the revenge rampage as soon as she lays her eyes on the comatose Mrs. Yau. In this scene specifically, Cheng achieves chilling tension through her performance but also goes way over the top with it, beyond any reality. This continues until the unexpected surprise comes in the bonding between the reborn Mrs.Yau and Ma. Cheng builds nicely on this and scales down down the outrageous nature to Deannie's performance as well, making her nomination well deserved.
Pace is generally good although there is the slight lull here and there, again with the first act in mind. After all is over, Cheng keeps good focus on his simple plot, doesn't break mood, and does again extremely well in shocking the audience whenever bloodshed occurs. Towards the very end however, there are a few plot details that are brushed over which makes this climax a little lacking. As far as thrillers go though, there obviously are better ones but Murder achieves its goals a fair bit beyond only decent. Of course performers help and without extensive background checks, he gets engaging and fairly effective lead acting from Carol Cheng and the underrated ACTOR Damian Lau.
Carol lacks the great actress skills to radiate that kind of subtlety that would've made her evil and vulnerable role rise to excellence. However, she does deliver the traits to Mrs. Yau well enough to make the movie work, especially when she's beginning to rediscover her memory. Director Cheng does give into that trap of directing a character like this in hysterical mannerisms and it all too much sometimes resembles other character performances like this. As someone who is more known as a comedienne, it's fun to see Carol in this role though and it deserves minor praise. Damian Lau's character is close to one note in his evil manners but manages to sell the calmness and desperation that leads into violent rage. Ever since his role as the bullied teacher in School On Fire, Lau has had the highest respect from me and has shown that he was capable outside of his martial arts roles. Also appearing is director Lawrence Cheng and as the nosey cop, Wong Kam-Kong.
Murder is definitely underrated because few has rated it. Its existence was a mystery to me all up till recently and it's always a joy to discover movies, especially ones that you weren't expecting from certain people. In this case director Lawrence Cheng. It's not a thriller classic but worthy of respect by both fans of Hong Kong cinema that are looking beyond the action efforts and the Hitchcock camp shouldn't be too displeased either.
Megastar presents the film in a 1.79:1 aspect ratio approximately. On the plus side, print is generally clean but it possesses only fairly good colours and detail never registers more than ok. It's expected coming from an older film though.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix adds no noticeable foley effects but dialogue, as evident on other Megastar titles as well, doesn't feel properly centered and the whole affair also sounds more harsh now that it's not mono anymore. A clearer sounding Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
The English subtitles feature errors on occasions throughout but are very much serviceable. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extras are trailers for Murder, the terrific trailer for A Fishy Story, The Big Heat and Love Soldier Of Fortune.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson