Review: ‘Shadows’ (2023), starring Stephy Tang, Philip Keung, Tse Kwan Ho, Ben Yuen, Ling Man Lung, Justin Cheung, Jennifer Yu and Babyjohn Choi

July 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Stephy Tang in “Shadows” (Photo courtesy of One Cool Pictures and M2M Entertainment)

“Shadows” (2023)

Directed by Glenn Chan

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the horror film “Shadows” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A forensic psychiatrist, who has psychic abilities that allow her to read people’s minds and see their past, begins to suspect that another psychiatrist has been manipulating some of his patients to commit murder.

Culture Audience: “Shadows” will appeal primarily to people who like murder mysteries with supernatural elements.

Tse Kwan Ho in “Shadows” (Photo courtesy of One Cool Pictures and M2M Entertainment)

“Shadows” is a haunting and effective thriller that mixes the supernatural and criminal law. The movie works better as a horror story than as a story about solving murder cases. Some of the plot is too mysterious, but the visuals and acting are impressive. The movie’s ending will probably divide viewers. Some viewers with criticisms about the last few scenes will probably argue that the movie should have had a different outcome. However, the movie had enough clues hinting that the story could have ended in this way.

Directed by Glenn Chan (his feature-film directorial debut) and written by Chang Kai Xiang and Mani Man Pui-Hing, “Shadows” had its world premiere at the 2020 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, but the movie didn’t get released in theaters until 2023. “Shadows” takes place in Hong Kong, where a series of murders are being committed by people who had no previous history of violence. What all of these killers have in common is that they are or have recently been patients of a particular psychiatrist, who is known for believing that people are inherently bad.

“Shadows” begins at the murder scene that sets off the investigation. An award-winning social worker named Chu Chun Yung (played by Justin Cheung), who is 36 years old, has just murdered his 9-year-old-daughter (played by Leung Lok Ching), his 34-year-old wife (played by Lai Jessica Whitney) and his wife’s 64-year-old mother (played by Pang Mei Sheung), who all lived with him in an apartment building. Yung is seen confessing to the murders when he calls an emergency number to summon police. After making the phone call, Yung jumps out of an apartment window.

It’s soon revealed that Yung survived the jump. He has been arrested and taken to a hospital, where a forensic psychiatrist in her late 30s named Dr. Tsui Hiu Ching (played by Stephy Tang), who works closely with the local police, has been tasked with evaluating Yung’s mental stability, to determine if he was insane or not at the time he committed the murders. Yung seems to be in a trance-like state when Ching interviews him. All he will say about the murders is that it was like feeling hungry and then eating a satisfying meal.

Before meeting with Yung, Ching is seen having a private one-on-one meeting with one of her patients named Kloudia (played by Jennifer Yu), who is a timid and forlorn teenager. Ching tries to get Kloudia to open up to her about what’s bothering Kloudia. All that Kloudia will say is, “It’s too late. There’s no escape.”

At that moment, viewers find out that Ching has psychic abilities. She can enter into people’s conscious minds and see into their past. When Ching enters Kloudia’s mind, it’s like she’s stepping into the same where Kloudia s and reliving her past experiences as as n observer. However, the other people in the room cannot see Ching.

During this psychic trip (which is depicted in a very spooky way with murky locations and menacing black smoke, Ching can see that Kloudia’s father (played by Li Ying To) has been physically and verbally abusive to Kloudia. Ching witnesses Kloudia’s father beating Kloudia and tries in vain to shout to Kloudia to run away and not take this abuse any more. Suddenly, Ching is brought back from this psychic trip and sees that Kloudia is has been screaming in her chair and cowering with fear.

Kloudia’s father, who has been paying for these therapist sessions, suddenly bursts into the room with Kloudia’s mother (played by Leong Cheok Mei), because they’ve heard all the commotion on the room. (Kloudia’s parents don’t have names in the movie.) Ching immediately accuses Kloudia’s father of abusing Kloudia.

Kloudia’s mother scoffs at this accusation and defneds her husband by saying that he’s a good man. Kloudia’s father also denies the abuse and questions Ching’s competence. Needless to say, that’s the last time that Kloudia has a session with Ching. But it won’t be the last time that Kloudia is in the movie.

The homicide detective who is the lead investigator for the Chu family murders is a bachelor named Ho Shun Fatt (played by Philip Keung), who is tough on the outside, but he can be tender on the inside. His tenderness mainly comes from taking care of a foster daughter named Dao-Dao (played by Keira Wang), who is about 6 or 7 years old. Dao-Dao is intelligent and adorable.

The movie doesn’t really explain Dao-Dao’s background and how Fatt ended up being her foster father. However, it’s shown more than once in the movie that Fatt gets so busy with his work, he’s sometimes late in picking up Dao-Dao from school. Dao-Dao has an easygoing schoolteacher named Cheung (played by Babyjohn Choi), who usually looks after Dao-Dao until Fatt arrives to pick up Dao-Dao from school.

Around the same time that the Chu family murders are being investigated, Ching does a speaking appearance at a local university. The subject is psychiatry and the human condition. Two people are interviewed on stage for this speaking appearance: Ching and a well-known psychiatrist named Dr. Yan Chung Kwong (played by Tse Kwan Ho), who has beliefs that are the opposite of Ching’s. For example, Ching is more likely than Kwong to believe that mental illness can cause people to commit murder.

Ching tells the audience that people are inherently good, while Kwong tells the audience that people are inherently bad. He says it’s why laws are in place to prevent people to giving in to their natural impulses to sin and to punish people who break the laws. Kwong believes that if people were inherently good, there wouldn’t be a need for these laws in the first place. Kwong later says in the movie, “The more evil someone is, the more likely they are to pretend otherwise.”

Kwong is a mysterious, middle-aged bachelor whose past is explained at one point in the movie. He was living in Europe for several years but recently moved back to his native Hong Kong. Ching becomes suspicious of Kwong when she finds out that several of his past and present Hong Kong patients, who had no prior history of violence, have been murdering people. Former social worker Yung is one of those patients. Kwong had recently been treating Yung for anxiety and depression.

Fatt reports to the no-nonsense Inspector To (played by Leung Kin Ping) and has two younger subordinates who are working closely with him on this case: Officer Choy (played by Locker Lam) and Officer Judy (played by Fung Hoi Yui), who are all somewhat generic characters. Fatt is the police detective with the most clearly defined personality and the best lines of dialogue. He’s diligent about his work in the office and out in the field. He also doesn’t like to jump to conclusions and likes to gather as many facts as possible.

The investigation takes Fatt and his colleagues to various places. One of them is Ping Che Nursing Home, where a young male nurse named Lau Po Keung (played by Ling Man Lung) comes under suspicion when two of his elderly patients—a man named Chiu (played by Mak Lok Sun) and a woman named Mui (played by Yeung Yee Yee)—disappear from the nursing home. Keung’s co-worker Wong Zi Hin (played by Cheung Lap Fung) is also questioned.

One of the criticisms that “Shadows” might get is that it never fully explains how long Ching has had her psychic abilities. However, there are hints later in the movie that Ching probably didn’t have or wasn’t aware of these psychic abilities until she became an adult. Fatt wonders about Ching’s own mental stability when she becomes more insistent that Kwong is brainwashing his patients to commit murder. Fatt does a background check on Ching and finds out that Ching’s widower father Tsui Yong Sek (played by Ben Yuen) was a construction worker who has recently been released from prison.

“Shadows” is occasionally gruesome in some of its horror aspects. Viewers who get easily squeamish should be warned that there’s a scene that involves a murderer removing skin from someone’s body—not in full, explicit details, but blood and the skinning aftermath are shown. The police procedural aspects of “Shadows” move along at a very good pace. And the banter between Ching and Fatt is interesting to watch, even if Keung’s cop character is the type of police officer who has been in many other movies and TV shows.

Tang gives the best performance of the cast members, since her character is the most complex and the most unique. Tse is also noteworthy for his unsettling performance as Kwong. Up until a certain point in the movie, viewers will be wondering if Kwong is a cynical psychiatrist, or if he is truly evil. The answer is revealed about halfway through “Shadows,” but this revelation doesn’t take away from the suspense that this flawed but fascinating horror movie has to offer.

One Cool Pictures and M2M Entertainment released “Shadows” in select U.S. cinemas on July 14, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on February 23, 2023, and in Singapore on March 2, 2023.

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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