Hong Kong, 2015, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.
Director: Li Guangyao 李光耀 [David Lee].
Wannabe doctor-patient psychodrama doesn’t generate much tension, and lacks lead chemistry.
Hong Kong, Jun 2009. With his marriage falling apart since his son died three years earlier, the unemployed Fan Guosheng (Liu Qingyun) accidentally pushes his wife Fang Huiling (Ye Xuan) out of their flat’s window one night during a drunken rage, just as her mother (Bao Qijing) is arriving in the street below to take her away. Fan Guosheng is committed to Mingxin Hospital, where he comes under the care of brilliant young doctor Zhou Mingjie (Huang Xiaoming). Three years later, when Fan Guosheng’s case comes up for review, Zhou Mingjie recommends he is fit to be released, despite the doubts of some colleagues, including hospital head Liu (Mao Junhui) and senior doctor Lei (Fang Zhongxin). Zhou Mingjie is shocked when Liu, whom he always considered his mentor since medical school, says he’s dying of liver cancer; he asks Zhou Mingjie to take over as hospital head, as Lei is thinking of retiring. Meanwhile, Fan Guosheng, who has got a job as a waiter, is repeatedly pestered at work by his mother-in-law. When Zhou Mingjie tries to help, Fan Guosheng tells him he’s stopped taking any medicine, as he feels he’s recovered. But when his mother-in-law reveals that Fang Huiling was pregnant at the time of her death, Fan Guosheng cracks and decides to commit suicide. While thinking about jumping off his apartment building, he accidentally kills a crazed druggie who comes by. Zhou Mingjie helps him cover the crime up and tells him to go into hiding, later telling the police that he hasn’t seen Fan Guosheng for some time. When his girlfriend Cen Bao’er announces some surprising news, Zhou Mingjie becomes even more stressed-out. He sets up a secret office suite and, by round-the-clock tests and supervision, decides to get to the bottom of whether Fan Guosheng is cured or not.
Despite the script’s attempt to create some meaningful sub-plots, Insanity 暴疯语 is basically one of those doctor-patient two-handers that, apart from surprising plot revelations, rely on good chemistry between the leads and a growing tension in the cat-and-mouse games. Unfortunately, this second feature by Hong Kong’s Li Guangyao 李光耀 [David Lee] has neither of the above, though it does have a more-than-respectable performance by veteran Liu Qingyun 刘青云 [Lau Ching-wan] as the patient that just about hawls the film across the 90-minute finishing line. Apart from a screenplay that has no clear dramatic arc and takes an hour to get to the meat and potatoes, the main problem is Liu’s Mainland co-star Huang Xiaoming 黄晓明, who looks like he’s trying to outdo Hong Kong’s Gu Tianle 古天乐 [Louis Koo] in granite-faced looks.
It’s a favourite genre in Chinese cinema that encompasses a broad range of films, from Kammerspiels like The Great Hypnotist 催眠大师 (2014), through pulpier fare like Virtual Recall 异空危情 (2010), to broader psychodramas like Double Xposure 二次曝光 (2012), medical thrillers like Sentence Me Guilty 判我有罪 (2015) and even psychological comedy-dramas like Inseparable 形影不离 (2011) – all of which feature a Big Twist that moves the goalposts. Insanity‘s twist is hardly earth-shaking and doesn’t seem to grow organically from either the material or the performances.
Produced and co-written by Hong Kong’s Er Dongsheng 尔冬升 [Derek Yee], the film is a big step up from Li’s previous feature, Yes, I Can See People 恶男事件 (2008), an interesting but on-a-budget black comedy/horror on which Hong Kong writer Lv Guannan 吕冠南 (The Last Tycoon 大上海, 2012; Christmas Rose 圣诞玫瑰, 2013) also worked. But though it’s professional enough on a technical level – thanks to names like d.p. Chen Zhiying 陈志英, p.d. Zhang Shihong 张世宏 [Silver Hong] and editor Qiu Zhiwei 邱志伟 [Yao Chi-wai] – there’s a feeling that former assistant director Li, 41, is punching above his weight in a genre that requires subtler things like sustained atmosphere and acting chemistry. Liu, who’s especially good in the prologue as a floppy-haired, physically abusive drunk, is largely believable later as a loser holding in his demons; but there’s not a glimmer of give-and-take between him and the normally reliable Huang, who’s as inexpressive as a waxwork.
The rest of the Hong Kong cast drifts in and out with barely developed characters: singer-actress Xue Kaiqi 薛凯琪 [Fiona Sit] as the doctor’s perpetually pained girlfriend, Fang Zhongxin 方中信 [Alex Fong Chung-sun] as a senior doctor, veteran Bao Qijing 鲍起静 [Paw Hee-ching] as the patient’s nutty mother-in-law, and so on. The only one to really register, if briefly, is Mainland-born, US-raised Ye Xuan 叶璇 [Michelle Ye] as the abused wife in the prologue.
The film is not to be confused with Mainland ensemble black comedy The Insanity 你好，疯子！ (2016).
Presented by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK), Bona Entertainment (HK). Produced by Unlimited Production (China) (HK).
Script: Li Guangyao [David Lee], Lv Guannan, Er Dongsheng [Derek Yee]. Photography: Chen Zhiying. Editing: Qiu Zhiwei [Yau Chi-wai]. Music: Gao Shizhang. Production design: Zhang Shihong [Silver Cheung]. Costume design: Zhang Shijie [Stanley Cheung]. Sound: Mai Zhi’an, Zheng Yingyuan [Phyllis Cheng], Ye Zhaoji [Ip Siu-kei]. Action: Qian Jiale [Chin Ka-lok]. Car stunts: Wu Haitang. Visual effects: Chen Zhidao, Li Zifei (Herbgarden).
Cast: Liu Qingyun [Lau Ching-wan] (Fan Guosheng), Huang Xiaoming (Zhou Mingjie, doctor), Xue Kaiqi [Fiona Sit] (Cen Bao’er), Fang Zhongxin [Alex Fong Chung-sun] (Lei, doctor), Bao Qijing [Paw Hee-ching] (Fang Huiling’s mother), Ye Xuan [Michelle Ye] (Fang Huiling), Mao Junhui (Liu, hospital head), Sun Jiajun (Zhou Mingjie’s mother), Xian Seli (Wang Enni, doctor), Wei Shiya (Mengna/Mona, Zhou Mingjie’s self-mutilating patient), Li Guolin (Li Weixiong, police detective).
Release: Hong Kong, 2 Apr 2015.