Eye For Film >> Movies >> Legally Declared Dead (2019) Film Review
Legally Declared Dead
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Films that mix genres can be unexpectedly exhilarating but it's a tough balance to strike and, despite some interesting ideas and a clever approach to flashback, second-time director Yuen Kim-Wai gets caught somewhere in a no-man's land between psychological thriller and slasher stylings in Legally Declared Dead.
The cerebral element of the film holds plenty of promise, as our hero, of sorts, is a mild-mannered insurance broker, Yip Wing-Shun (Carlos Chan), who begins to have serious doubts about the suicide of youngster Kafu (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong) - an incident which triggers unwelcome memories of his brother's death as a child.
The film - which screened at Fantasia 2020 - begins with Yip's brother, in a desaturated style used by Yuen to indicate flashbacks, stepping off the edge of a high-rise block. Visuals throughout return to this cue, with buildings often shot in a looming fashion by cinematographer Ronnie Ching or the camera peering down on events from a vertiginous height. The flashback idea is also clever, with the here-and-now meeting the past at key moments. The film's look, in general, is strong, including the introduction of Yip, captured with his head cradled in a saintly halo of light, an image that will be effectively inverted towards the end of the film. Elsewhere, however, there's so much attention paid to the aesthetics that it has the detrimental effect of making the staging feel unreal.
Take the house where the Kafu dies, for example. It's so ramshackle and rotten that it's almost impossible to believe anyone would actually live there, so it's no wonder that Yip gets the creeps after being called out there to talk about a policy. Following the near-silent and strange Chu Chung-Tak (Anthony Wong), he's there when Kafu's body is discovered hanging in a room. Wong is such a brooding presence as Kafu's stepfather Chu that it's easy to get on board with Yip's misgivings about him, especially when he keeps turning up at the offices with his limping, almost blind wife Shum Chi-Ling (played by the director's wife Karena Lam) demanding a payout.
Yuen had a career in advertising and making music videos prior to stepping up to film and perhaps that's why he's still better at creating memorable moments than structuring an entire movie. While Yip's increasing obsession with Chu - and what he might do to Shum - holds promise, Yuen ultimately gets distracted by much cheaper thrills. Lam and Wong create a moody and sinister dynamic between them, which counterpoints well with Chan's open performance, but incidental characters, including Yip's girlfriend (Kathy Yuen) and her professor mentor (Liu Kai-Chi) lack depth. As a genre mix, a mixed bag, then, but the powerful performances provide their own insurance against the film's weaker elements.Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2020