Review: ‘A Guilty Conscience’ (2023), starring Dayo Wong, Tse Kwan Ho, Louise Wong, Renci Yeung, Fish Liew, Adam Pak and Michael Wong

January 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Renci Yeung and Dayo Wong in “A Guilty Conscience” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“A Guilty Conscience” (2023)

Directed by Wai-Lun Ng

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the dramatic film “A Guilty Conscience” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A defense attorney, who dislikes his co-lead counsel and corrupt rich people, represents a single mother accused of killing of 7-year-old daughter. 

Culture Audience: “A Guilty Conscience” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of courtroom dramas and murder mysteries that have touches of sarcastic comedy.

Louise Wong in “A Guilty Conscience” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“A Guilty Conscience” is a well-paced legal thriller about a prickly defense attorney representing a single mother accused of killing her 7-year-old daughter. Vivid character personalities and occasionally comedic moments help make this movie compelling. If you like stories about defense attorneys who put extra effort into doing their own investigating, then “A Guilty Conscience” is your type of movie.

Directed by Wai-Lun Ng, “A Guilty Conscience” (which takes place in Hong Kong) was co-written by Ng, Jay Cheung and Terry Lam. The movie begins by showing the flawed and memorable protagonist Adrian Lam, also known as Lam Leung Shui (played by Dayo Wong), keeping people in a courtroom waiting, just because he can. Adrian is a defense attorney in criminal law who can be arrogant, self-absorbed and difficult. But he has a strong sense of right and wrong. He especially dislikes rich people who abuse their power.

Adrian has recently become frustrated with his job. He has a new boss named Christine whom he doesn’t really like, and he gets into frequent arguments with her. He also has to share co-counsel duties with Evelyn Fong (played by Renci Yeung), a younger woman whom he doesn’t really respect because he thinks she’s not on the same level as he is because she is less experienced in being an attorney.

Adrian also doesn’t like dealing with cases that he thinks are frivolous and a waste of his time. For example, in the beginning of the movie, he is shown in court defending someone who was charged with using obscene language on a subway. Adrian will soon get caught up in a more substantial case that’s literally a matter of life and death.

One day, Adrian finds out about a young, single mother named Jolene Tsang (played by Louise Wong), who has been accused of attempted murder of her 7-year-old daughter Elsa Tsang (played by Sherlock Mack), who is mute and can only communicate in sign language. Elsa was found beaten and bloodied on the living room floor in the home where she lives with Jolene, who was the only known person in the home during the time that Elsa was assaulted. Elsa is now in a coma in a hospital. This shocking crime has been all over the local news.

Jolene vehemently denies that she had anything to do with this crime. Jolene says that on the night of the assault, she was drunk and passed out in another room. Jolene also says there’s no way that she was so drunk that she could have blacked out and committed the crime. However, because Jolene was the one who found Elsa, and it’s common for attackers to pretend to be innocent witnesses, Jolene automatically comes under suspicion. With no other suspects, and because Jolene admits she was in the home during the attack, she is arrested.

Adrian and Evelyn become Jolene’s co-lead attorneys, but Adrian is the one who spends most of the time investigating, with help from junior attorney Kam Yuen Shan (played by Tse Kwan Ho). At first, Adrian doesn’t know what to think about Jolene’s guilt or innocence. But the more he interviews her and the more looks at some of the evidence, the more he is convinced that someone else committed the crime.

And where is Elsa’s father during this family crisis? Jolene says that Elsa’s father left her when he found out that Jolene was pregnant, and he was never invovled with raising EIsa. I’s already revealed in the trailer for “A Guilty Conscience” trailer that Elsa tells Adrian that Elsa has been having an affair with a married man named Dr. Desmond Chung (played by Adam Pak), who married into a wealthy and powerful family.

Desmond’s wife is the aloof and glamorous Victoria Chung (played by Fish Liew), who is close to her mother Madam Chung (played by Alannah Ong), domineering matriarch who is obsessed with the family having the right image. Also part of this clan is Victoria’s uncle James Tung (played by Michael Wong), an attorney who helps the family with legal matters, such as administering trust funds.

Jolene’s case gets a serious damage when a witness named neighbor named Ball Chan (played by Mak Tze Wan) testifies in court that on the night of the assault on Elsa, he was patrolling the area to do a neighborhood safety check. He says that he saw Jolene in her house, and she was struggling with a small person near a sliding glass door facing the street. The timeline matches the time that Elsa was attacked.

The case takes another turn when Elsa wakes up from her coma. Adrian and Kam rush to the hospital to interview Elsa and ask if her mother was the one who assaulted her. Through sign language, Else says no, it was someone else, but she can’t describe the person because Elsa didn’t get a good look at the attacker. Shortly after making this victim statement, tragedy strikes: Elsa falls into a coma and dies. Jolene is now charged with voluntary manslaughter.

“A Guilty Conscience” has some plot developments that are very easy to predict, but there are also a few twists that that make this a very engaging thriller. In addition to the investigation, the movie’s courtroom scenes stand out because of Adrian’s very dramatic style and sarcastic jokes that sometimes get him in trouble with the judge. You can see some “Perry Mason” influences in this movie from how Adrian’s questions in court are also part of the investigation, as evidence is still being uncovered during the trial.

Dayo Wong, an entertainer who’s known for being a stand-up comedian, brings a lot of comedic flair to his performance as Adrian. And balancing the comedy with the drama is not an easy thing to do in a movie that has the serious subject of parent on trial for killing a child. Adrian’s frequent outbursts are meant to be comic relief in the movie. In real life, much of it wouldn’t be as funny.

Most scripted movies about criminal cases will portray defense attorneys in one of two extremes: as crusading and saintly do-gooders, or as sleazy lowlifes who will do anything to get their guilty clients acquitted. Adrian is neither. He can be pompous and self-righteous in his search of justice for disadvantaged people he thinks has the system rigged against them. But he also has a nasty temper and can be very unprofessional inside and outside the courtroom.

And although he is compassionate with Jolene, there are signs that Adrian has some sexism toward his female colleagues. During the course of this case, he has to come to terms with his narrow-minded views about is female work colleagues who are in a position of authority. During this case, Adrian starts of thinking that he knows everything, but is then humbled to find out that he has a lot more to learn.

Louise Wong’s portrayal of Jolene is heartbreaking and a little melodramatic, but viewers will feel Jolene’s anguish of grieving over Elsa’s death and being locked up in jail for this crime that Jolene swears she didn’t commit. Yeung is quite good in her underdeveloped role as Evelyn, who is often overshadowed by Adrian and his controlling and showoff ways. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles.

“A Guilty Conscience” is more than a courtroom drama. It’s an exploration of how gender dynamics affect people’s egos and interactions in the workplace. It’s also an astute observation of how social class can affect people’s perceptions of a defendant in a criminal case.

Edko Films Ltd. released “A Guilty Conscience” in select U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2023.

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