Au Shiu Hee James, Chan Fung-Kam, Chu Pak-Him, drama, Ho Cheuk Tin, Hong Kong, Jan Lamb, Lin Haifeng, Mai Peidong, Mak Pui Tung, Michael Chow, movies, reviews, Su Yuhua, The Sparring Partner, Ursule Wong, Yang Shimin, Yeung Wei Lun, Zhou Wenjian
April 1, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Ho Cheuk Tin
Cantonese, English and German with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place from 2012 to 2015, in Hong Kong, the dramatic film “The Sparring Partner” (based on real events) features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: An affluent young man and his intellectually disabled friend are pitted against each other when they go on trial for the brutal murder of the affluent man’s parents, and jurors must decide how much responsibility each man has in this horrific crime.
Culture Audience: “The Sparring Partner” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in true crime stories and suspenseful movies that have courtroom drama.
Even though “The Sparring Partner” has a total running time that is a little too long (138 minutes), it’s still a gripping true crime drama that gives a memorable portrait of a twisted killer’s mind. The movie serves as a warning about a sociopath’s personality traits. “The Sparring Partner” achieves a challenging task of looking at a courtroom trial from different perspectives.
Directed by Ho Cheuk Tin, “The Sparring Partner” is based on the true story of the Tai Kok Tsui double homicide: In Tai Kok Tsui, Hong Kong, 65-year-old Glory Chau Wing-ki and his 63-year-old wife Moon Siu Yuet-yee were viciously murdered in 2013. They were also dismembered, and their body parts cooked and stored in a refrigerator. Their youngest son Henry Chau Hoi-leung (who was 29 at the time of the murder) and his friend Angus Tse Chun-kei (who was 35 at the time of the murder) went on trial together in 2015 for this double homicide, among other crimes related to the murders. The nine-person jury not only had to decide if the defendants were guilty or not guilty but also how much responsibility each defendant had in planning and committing the crimes.
What makes “The Sparring Partner” a little more complex and more intriguing than the average courtroom drama is that flashbacks shown during each defendant’s testimony often show the attorneys and jurors also in the flashbacks as observers or commentators. Each defendant has a different version of what happened before, during and after the murders. And therefore, the reactions can vary from the people who weren’t actually there.
In addition, the movie takes viewers inside the jury deliberation room, where the jurors argue, debate and reveal their own personal biases. All of these perspectives could easily turn into a jumbled mess, but “The Sparring Partner” keeps everything mostly cohesive and easy to understand. Much of it has to do with the movie’s suspenseful screenplay, written by Frankie Tam, Kwong Yuen, Oliver Yip and Thomas Leung.
In “The Sparring Partner,” the son on trial for murdering his parents is named Henry Cheung (played by Yeung Wei Lun), who is portrayed as a cold-hearted manipulator who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in the investigation. It’s revealed during the trial that Henry isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, because was arrested after bragging about the crime on social media. Henry’s accused accomplice is mild-mannered Angus Tong (played by Mak Pui Tung, also known as Mai Peidong), who has mental-health issues and intellectual disabilities after suicide attempts when he was younger left him with brain damage.
Henry’s attorney Wu Guanfeng (played by Lin Haifeng) argues that Angus is mostly to blame, since he was the one who committed most of the violence. Angus’ attorney Carrie You (played by Louisa So, also known as Su Yuhua) argues that Henry is mostly to blame, since he was the mastermind who planned everything and pressured Angus to participate. The prosecutor Ellen Chu (played by Zhou Wenjian) argues that Henry and Angus are equally responsible and should be punished accordingly. The judge (played by Michael Chow) often has to restore order in the court when things get too contentious.
One of the things that Henry claims in his testimony was that his father Cheung Kuen Kawai (played by Au Shiu Hee James) was abusive to his wife Shiu Suet Yee (played by Chan Fung-Kam) and son Hin Jo. It sets off a heated discussion over whether or not this claim of domestic violence is believable and how it should be judged in this case. “The Sparring Partner” also depicts the media coverage in the case and how that coverage can influence the court of public opinion.
Some of the other supporting characters are Tang Wenshan (played by Yang Shimin), Angus’ sister, who gives some heart-wrenching testimony; Henry’s older brother Cheung Hin Jo (played by Chu Pak-Him), who was the one who reported their parents as missing; and attorney Wilson Ying (played by Jan Lamb), who is on Henry’s defense team. “The Sparring Partner” also shows how police law enforcement investigated the case, which Superintendent Kam (played by Matt Chow) leading the investigation.
The movie has somewhat unnecessary scenes of the jury selection, where people are shown giving excuses for what they can’t serve on the jury. Some of these potential jurors are dismissed, while others are not. One of the standouts in the jury is former teacher Liu Men Yan (played by Ursule Wong), who is very opinionated.
“The Sparring Partner” pulls off a very good balancing act of showing testimony coming to life and showing people’s reactions, based on their own agendas and prejudices. Many people who watch this movie already know what was the outcome of the trial. But whether or not viewers know what the trial verdict was in real life, “The Sparring Partner” gives a fascinating story about how facts, truth and justice aren’t necessarily working in tandem with each other during a trial, and are definitely not viewed the same way by different people.
Well Go USA released “The Sparring Partner” in select U.S. cinemas on December 9, 2022. The movie was released in Hong Kong on October 27, 2022. Well Go USA will release “The Sparring Partner” on digital and VOD on April 4, 2023.