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Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Tagline: A daring display of cinema by Dennis Law, who fails to hit the mark Review by Neo: Leila Tong have finally come of age. With a brink of an age, Tong is no longer a teenager, making those 90s coming of age flicks, but a full brooded fine young beauty ready for a mature acting display. Tong is no stranger to HK media, having been working hard through the ranks of TVB in the past decade and also roaming through B-Movies like The House of Invisibles along the way. At 27, Leila is finally back on the big screen for a juicy role and for one observer such as myself who have seen a lot of her career's work, her performance here is stunning to say the least and easily her best display after 19 years in the industry. As for the film, it must be praised and blessed for HK cinema, to still have directors who are willing to invest in movies made for Hong Kong, rather than broadening the horizon into the mainland China. Director Dennis Law is one of them, a self film investor who was behind the wondrous and disturbing ride presented by Herman Yau in Gong Tau; Law produces his most daring film yet. The only problem is that the film promises a lot, but just somehow, fails to hit the right buttons or the right marks.
The film goes like this: A mother (played by Leila Tong), who accidentally beat her own daughter to death, but the police department head (played by Maggie Siu) suspected something more. After the child is examined, it is revealed that she have been constantly sexually abused, by her mother's boyfriend. While the mother keeps denying that she knew anything of it, the cops attempt to use all kind of interrogation techniques to force the true out of her.
One of the major problems of director Dennis Law is his inability to stop at the right timing. A perfect example is the meant to be emotionally charged and impacting sequences of Leila attempt of suicide in the jail, but unfortunately, Law is not Johnnie To, decides to slow-mo and extent the scene, thereby minimising any impact it was meant to have. The same can probably be said in a lot of other scenes that either is irrelevant or simply a waste of footage. It is still bewildering me, why on earth did Law included characters like Eddie Cheung or Hui Siu Hung, as neither of these characters add any layer to the film, rather than simply taking up space. Perhaps, Law is helping his friends to earn a few extra bucks, and let's hope that is the case, or else this is simply bad film-making.
With all the bad points explored, it's time to ponder on some good stuff. As mentioned before, Leila Tong plays her role of a conflicted and confused mother extremely well. The way she is frightened seemed real, and despite, accidentally killing her daughter, the audience is ultimately able to relate and understand the point she is at and how the context that she lived through affected the outcome. A bravo and daring acting display from the former child actor and hopefully this will give path to a lot more opportunities for this young lady to explore her potentials. Likewise, Maggie Siu have always developed herself as a Johnnie To's favourite in the past decade and her cold performance here at first seem as though a direct carbon copy from the Tactical Unit series, but as the film reaches its climax, there is human within her, and her interactions with her own child and later with Leila in the hospital, she just somehow managed to pull it off.
All in all, A Very Short Life is easily Dennis Law most ambitious film and probably most disturbing (if you exclude his production credits in Gong Tau), but also most disappointing. The film stops when it shouldn't, prolong when it should have been cut and the added presence of irrelevant characters, ultimately all added up to spoil the broth. Sometimes, if you want to push a subject matter, it is no point just to take a glimpse of it, but rather one should get to the bottom of it. It is disappointing that the film have its potential, the premises and the lead actors, but nothing really follow through. It is once again, the case of what could have been and the effect is leaving A Very Short Life, in the middle of the traffic, an average film at best, nothing more and nothing less (Neo 2009)
Neo rates it 6/10
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