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Insanity - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Bo fung yu

Hong Kong 2015


Derek Yee Tung-Sing

Lau Ching-Wan
Huang Xiaoming
Fiona Sit
Alex Fong
Bau Hei-Jing
Michelle Ye
Mo Chun-Fai
Bonnie Xian

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Story: Fan Kwok-Sang (Lau Ching-Wan) is schizophrenic and doesn't let his wife leave the apartment on her own. Three years ago their son died. Since that day he is unemployed and in quite some debt. When his wife one day wants to leave the apartment he assumes that she has an affair and turns violent. He pushes her out of the window of the 6th floor. However, he isn't sent to prison for the murder. As he is mentally ill he is sent to a mental institution. There he is treated by Chow Ming-Kit (Huang Xiaoming). After a few years Fan seems to be cured. Chow wants to discharge him and despite the concerns of his colleagues his request is granted. Fan tries to find his place in society, but he discontinues taking his medication and has thoughts about committing suicide, especially since the mother of his wife is stalking him every day. Meanwhile, Chow is appointed as the new director of the institution, but he is worrying about his reputation since he now believes that he may have discharged Fan too early after all. Then a murder is committed and things don't look that well for Chow anymore...

Review: "Insanity" is a psychological Hong Kong thriller that tries to be smart and convey a message of what it means to be mentally ill while at the same time striving to be an entertaining thriller. If this were balanced in some way, there wouldn't be anything to moan about, but unfortunately the movie is constantly shifting from one side to the other. That doesn't make the movie bad, in fact this is one of the better thrillers of the last few years coming out of Hong Kong, but "Insanity" doesn't look like being a uniform film. So, considering its tone you could almost call the film schizphrenic, but for this to be considered an actual perfidious goal by the director on a meta-level this approach isn't stringently enough applied until the very end.

Insanity - Film Screenshot 11

The mood the movie creates is permanently varying. In the beginning the story seems almost creepy and we are just waiting for something cruel to happen. Then things become quieter and more contemplative, only to cross over into the psychological horror genre once again. Towards the end, the film drifts even more into this direction and that's where it even displays its strongest moments. How odd the movie's mood is by shifting back and forth becomes particularly obvious concerning its soundtrack and the sound effects in general. Especially during the horror-heavy moments the movie's sound volume is unnecessarily cranked up and hits your ears with horror film clichés. The pictures on the other hand aren't that cliché-loaden, though. On the contrary, sometimes there is some nice picture composition to be made out.

Insanity - Film Screenshot 12

The filmmakers also came up with some nice stuff during the scenes when the protagonist more and more loses his sanity. Sadly, it can't be overlooked that director Lee Kwong-Yiu has put a lot of effort into making his film seem very smart. But unfortunately the last thirty minutes of the movie can be anticipated way in advance, even though some of the details can serve as an appealing twist nonetheless. Yet, the human psyche is full of abysses and pitfalls that could have been made good use of. Some further tweaks on the screenplay easily could have enhanced the story to quite some degree at least. It's just a shame to see that the story's potential hasn't been fully made use of. Then again, you have to acknowledge that only few Hong Kong movies provide a decent story at all.

The constant shift in tone is also running through Huang Xiaoming's ("The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom", "The Guillotines") acting efforts. He is cutting a fine figure as the reserved, analyzing doctor, despite Huang having too much of an artificial model look for us to really take him serious as a doctor all the time. However, when Dr. Chow slowly is about to lose his sanity the movie tips over. Towards the end Huang drifts into overacting over and over again, which isn't completely reaching the level of awfullness, yet doesn't prove his talent as an actor after all. This becomes even the more apparent when Lau Ching-Wan ("The White Storm", "Overheard 3") is on screen. Not only does he steal Huang's spotlight he even manages to compensate for his shortcomings.

Insanity - Film Screenshot 13

It has become almost tedious to praise Lau Ching-Wan's acting talent. He simply elevates every film to a higher level and he succeeds in doing so especially towards the end of "Insanity". By the way, this is even the more impressive since his role isn't nearly half as well developed as Dr. Chow and yet he seems many times more three-dimensional and believable. Lau just has the needed sensitiveness for a role like this. Shortcomings in respect to character elaboration also become apparent in Fiona Sit's ("Embrace Your Shadow") acting while Alex Fong ("One Nite in Mongkok") manages to absorb it quite neatly. Especially in a psychological thriller the elaboration of characters should have turned out a lot better than here. The last thirty minutes put you in a conciliatory mood, but the constant shift of tone before that is simply too much of a negative point in an otherwise neat thriller.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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