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Ip Man - The Final Fight

Huang Xiaoming and Lau Ching-Wan in Insanity.
Chinese: 暴瘋語  
Year: 2014  
Director: David Lee Kwong-Yiu  
Producer: Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Law Chi-Leung, Mandy Law
Writer: David Lee Kwong-Yiu, Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Philip Lui Koon-Nam

Chin Kar-Lok

Cast: Lau Ching-Wan, Huang Xiaoming, Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei, Bau Hei-Jing, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Mo Chun-Fai, Michelle Ye, Bonnie Xian, Michelle Wai, Joseph Lee Kwok-Lun, Pauline Suen Kai-Kwan
The Skinny: Entertaining but flawed psychological thriller has noteworthy high and low points, making it difficult to fully recommend. Lau Ching-Wan is great as the disturbed patient, but Huang Xiaoming isn’t as the disturbed doctor. The textbook definition of a mixed bag.
by Kozo:

From David Lee, director of the underrated but not classic horror film Yes, I Can See Dead People, comes the psychological thriller Insanity, which stars the oddest actor team-up of the year in Lau Ching-Wan and Huang Xiaoming. One is a grizzled, accomplished and arguably homely Hong Kong actor while the other is a smooth-skinned prototypical mainland movie star, and the contrast between the two could easily be called a microcosm of the film’s problems. Insanity offers good and then bad; it’s a decently-conceived and solidly-involving thriller that kneecaps its cleverness and tension with uneven filmmaking, overdone plotting and unhinged acting. If you inferred praise for Lau and a knock on Huang in that sentence, well, you’re right in doing so. Sorry to Huang Xiaoming fans everywhere but he’s one of weakest links in Insanity. The film still offers entertainment for casual moviegoers, but discerning viewers won’t find much more here than superficially satisfying product.

Insanity begins with an introduction to disturbed schizophrenic Fan Kwok-Sang (Lau Ching-Wan), but the film is really about his doctor, Chow Ming-Kit (Huang Xiaoming). Three years ago, Sang was committed to a psychiatric hospital after his paranoia and violent temper led to the accidental death of his wife Wai-Ling (Michelle Ye). Now he’s up for release and Doctor Chow proudly vouches for him against the objections of his senior, Doctor Lui (Alex Fong). Soon, the increasingly arrogant Chow finds his career on an upward trajectory, with the cherry-on-top being his appointment as director of the hospital by the former head, terminally ill Doctor Lau (Mo Chun-Fai). Meanwhile, Sang isn’t doing quite so well; his mother-in-law (Bau Hei-Jing) harasses him by pretending to care about him while also promising to haunt him for the rest of her days. Then something very bad goes down with Sang, and Kit becomes obsessed with defending his patient – not to mention his own reputation.

The film lays the angst and anger on thick in the opening before going sensitive and thoughtful as Sang tentatively steps back into the world amidst prejudice and his own wavering self-confidence. There are social concerns inherent in the subject matter, and sometimes the film seems to share the same DNA as producer Derek Yee’s 1987 drama The Lunatics. However, Insanity switches jarringly between its social concerns and its more commercial ones, and the sound and style follow suit. When sadness or sensitivity are prominent, the music turns treacly but when it’s time for tension we get shock scares and sound design that’s dialed up to eleven. In between there are a few well-played scenes where suspense is created by nuanced performance rather than aggressive style, but in general the storytelling is uneven. Tension and uncertainty is good in a thriller, but when you go so overboard that you start to induce giggles, that’s not so good.

Acting is problematic when it matters. Huang Xiaoming is fine in smarmy doctor mode, but when his character gets harried and paranoid, his performance goes off the rails. Psychological nuance is not Huang’s strong suit, and the Cantonese dubbing (Huang is the only dubbed cast member) does him no favors. Also, Huang’s unnaturally perfect features are distracting – frankly, he sometimes looks like a walking Botox ad, if not a CGI creation. Huang is also outmatched by Lau Ching-Wan. For reasons of ego and public safety (but more ego, really), Chow sequesters Sang for a no-holds-barred therapy session to determine if Sang is really cured of his schizophrenia. That plot turn kicks the film into high gear, and Lau’s smart, controlled performance lifts the film to another level. The role requires plenty of range (Sang goes from enraged to benevolent to crafty in less than 90 minutes) and while he isn’t perfect, Lau more than wipes the floor with his co-star.

Supporting performances range from decent to excellent, with Bau Hei-Jing getting extra credit for her portrayal of a potentially disturbed grieving mother. Not faring as well is Fiona Sit as Chow’s girlfriend Shum Bo-Yi, though it’s not her fault that the role doesn’t give her much to do besides look worried. In supporting roles, Alex Fong and stage actor Mo Chun-Fai are fine, and Michelle Ye impresses in the meager screen time she receives. Overall, Insanity is an entertaining mixed bag that tries a bit too hard. The film enjoyably ups its game when Chow gets more unhinged and Sang’s demeanor becomes more Machiavellian. However, an eventual descent into melodrama and mawkish emotion cause the film to wear out its welcome, and pandering moments of contrition and an intertitle featuring a pretentious quote during the end credits seal the deal. The filmmakers’ intentions are admirable but they try too hard for significance. Knowing one’s limits is always smart. (Kozo, 12/2014)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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