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The Second Woman

The Second Woman

Shawn Yue gets some bad vibes from Shu Qi in The Second Woman.

Chinese: 情謎  
Year: 2012  
Director: Carol Lai Miu-Suet
Writer: Carol Lai Miu-Suet, Lai Ho
Cast: Shu Qi, Shawn Yue, Chen Shu, Xi Meijuan, Zhong Naitian, Niu Mengmeng, Lo Hoi-Pang, Emotion Cheung Kam-Ching
The Skinny: Mystery-thriller starring Shu Qi as twin sisters that's initially intriguing before falling off a cliff. Director Carol Lai goes for arty and atmospheric before adding in cute characters and abundant exposition. Shu Qi is fine if unable to save the film.
by Kozo:

Shu Qi doubles your pleasure but maybe not your fun in The Second Woman, from director Carol Lai (Naraka 19, Floating Landscape). The award-winning actress plays twins in this mystery-drama-thriller about sisters Huixiang (Shu Qi) and Bao (duh, also Shu Qi), who have a potentially murderous falling out. As usual, chief among their conflicts is love; the two have a simmering feud over Nan (a typical Shawn Yue), Bao’s boyfriend and the star of The Legend of the Plum Blossom, a stage production in which Bao has a small role. Bao is also the understudy to lead actress Amy (Chen Shu), who’s dissatisfied with Bao’s performances. One day, Bao is sick and Huaxiang, who’s older and seemingly more mature, offers to be the secret stand-in.

Surprisingly, Huaxiang is lauded for her acting in a way that Bao never has been, further creating a divide between the sisters. A silent tension already exists thanks to Nan, who may be with the moody Bao but also harbors a quiet attraction for the more demure Huaxiang. In response to all of this, Bao behaves in an even more petulant and entitled manner, further sullying the whole situation – not that Nan seems to mind, since he’s sleeping with both. The turning point occurs when Bao drops by the family home, where Huaxiang lives and cares for their blind mother (Xi Meijuan). The two go off somewhere to talk in the dead of night but only one returns, and it’s apparently Bao. But is it really Bao? Or is it Huaxiang pretending to be Bao so she can take her guy and her acting job? And which of these possibilities does Nan prefer?

Director and co-writer Carol Lai cooks up an intriguing suspense thriller and she’s got the right actress on board in Shu Qi. Shu is smart and skilled enough to handle dual roles, using subtle behaviors and not just wardrobe or hairstyles to make her characters distinct. After one of the women disappears, the question of which one remains is enough to keep the film afloat, thanks to established character details that make each woman a potential murderer. However, while the story may scream “psychological thriller,” Lai seems more interested in her clever narrative layers, which compare the in-film stage drama to the relationship between the sisters. This manner of exploring the story is ambitious and intriguing but arguably that successful. These are crimes of passion, but Lai’s handling comes off a bit cold.

Then the whole thing falls off a cliff. The film lacks the characters or the conviction to make this a full-blown mystery, with an investigation being handled not by cops or Nan, but by his pals KK (Zhong Naitian) and Fan (Niu Mengmeng). The two characters are complete ciphers, and exist only to behave like the Scooby Gang and throw themselves into solving the case – which Fan annoyingly does so by stating, “Now’s the time for my entrance!” Thriller or drama, the film derails tonally when some chipper, spunky girl in glasses announces that she’s going to make like Detective Conan. Furthering the problem is that everything becomes an exposition nightmare, with characters throwing out hypotheses or revelations verbally. Whatever audience participation existed with the “is it Bao or Huaxiang” question falls apart and it’s more or less a screenwriter show the rest of the way.

Second Woman possesses a solid production (William Cheung Suk-Ping was a key contributor) but lacks the proper tension or consistent tone to make it a strong thriller. The drama isn’t so hot either, the film remaining circumspect about its subject instead of indulging in the emotions or the passions that would best suit it. Second Woman ends with a stage-set denouement that echoes Hollywood thriller Black Swan, except without the lurid, creepy spectacle. Had Lai gone a little more Black Swan with more tension, atmosphere or sexuality, Second Woman could have been a standout thriller. As is, Second Woman is only a well-produced curiosity, possessing of some decent ideas, some disappointing execution and of course Shu Qi, who is unsurprisingly the best thing about the film. (Kozo, 2012)

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