For mainstream fans of Brigitte Lin's works, she is mostly known for her seductive roles in either fantasy or wuxia genre (e.g. 1993's THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR). But in this little-known thriller called LADY IN BLACK, fans get to see the different side of Brigitte Lin. This is a rare moment where she gets to play a darker-than-usual role unlike anything she has done before.
Brigitte Lins plays May, an estranged wife who is stuck in a loveless marriage with her naive husband, Kin (Tony Leung Ka-Fai). Kin is a compulsive gambler who always dream of getting rich and May's father-in-law Grandpa Leung (Shek Kin) doesn't particularly likes his attitude. When Kin stuck in a huge gambling debt, he persuades his wife to embezzle HK$500,000 from the company she work for. She agrees to help him on the condition that he will have to return the money just in time before anyone notice about the embezzlement.
Unfortunately being an irresponsible person as he is, Kin returns home and confesses that he loses all the money May has given it to him. Desperate to loan money, both Kin and May travel to Thailand to seek financial help from Kin's wealthy relative. However their attempt proves to be fruitless.
On the boat back, May finds out that Kin is trying to commit suicide. When she tries to help him out, she slips off the boat and falls into the water. At first Kin tries to rescue her but seeing that this is his chance to make her the scapegoat of the crime, he deliberately letting her hand go and left her there. She is presumed to be drowned and this leaves Kin free from his responsibility to start a new life by romancing his boss's (Kwan Shan) daughter and eventually work his way becoming a manager. He also wastes no time in sending Grandpa Leung to old folks' home and maintain custody with his only son, Ming (Gregory Lee).
However, Kin doesn't know that May is still alive from the boating accident. She is fortunate enough to be saved by a boat filled with Vietnamese refugees, except that her face is left horribly disfigured and even damaged her throat until she is unable to speak a word. Upon reaching home back to Hong Kong, she is struggling to put her life back together, only gradually to find herself in a rotten hell.
Brigitte Lin's emotionally raw performance as May stands out as one of her finest roles she ever committed. Meanwhile, Tony Leung Ka-Fai is perfectly cast as an irresponsible and unfaithful husband. As a revenge drama, LADY IN BLACK is bleak and punishing enough it's almost like watching a Category III picture (even though the rating here is only IIA). The opening scene that quickly establishes the suspenseful tone from the time where May starts embezzling the company's money to her eventual fate at the boat is worthy of Hitchcockian territory. The all-hell-breaks-loose climactic finale which sees May goes all out against her husband is both riveting and intense cinematic experience.
For a while there, Shaw brothers veteran filmmaker Sun Chung's direction is compelling enough to warrant your attention especially his pessimistic view of how marriage and life can go horribly wrong if things goes out of control. But what prevents this movie from becoming a genre classic is his over-the-top approach in the middle part. After a promising setup, subsequent scenes immediately loses steam with almost all characters spend their time shouting at each others. If that's not insulting enough, things goes so melodramatic where thunderstorms and bombastic music are presented to the point of hysteria. Then there's the terribly annoying performance from Gregory Lee, even though his scene with Shek Kin does show some genuine moments of emotional warmth.
Despite its shortcomings, LADY IN BLACK remains a must-see for fans of Brigitte Lin's works. This is also one of last movies Sun Chung has ever directed. His other two movies after LADY IN BLACK are Chow Yun-Fat and Ti Lung-starred CITY WAR (1988) and Vivian Chow-starred ANGEL HUNTER (1992).
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