A refreshing change of pace from your usual Hong Kong cop/undercover action-movie offerings, Guilt By Design <催眠·裁决> finds three young up-and-coming filmmakers — (Paul) Sze Pak-Lam, (Kenneth) Lai Siu-Kwan and Lau Wing-Tai — combines courtroom drama with hypnotism as the central theme of the movie.
The movie follows Nick Cheung’s Xu Lisheng, both a top hypnotist and psychologist who finds himself in a dire situation when his young daughter is kidnapped by a corrupt cop (Cheung Siu-Fai). To ensure his daughter’s safety, Xu is forced to use his hypnosis skill to manipulate his fellow jurors (Kent Cheng, Elaine Jin, Babyjohn Choi, Jo Kuk, Cecilia So and Jiro Lee Sheung-Ching) in the event of a high-profile murder case.
Although movies about hypnotism are nothing new (see the likes of Benny Chan’s Heroic Duo <雙雄> (2003) and Leste Chen’s The Great Hypnotist <催眠大師> (2014), it’s nice to see such a theme resurfaced in a mainstream Hong Kong film. The fact that the three directors, who also responsible for writing their own screenplay, incorporate hypnotism into the mould of a courtroom drama is even fresher. Not to mention their decision of setting the movie mostly in the confines of a jury room would make a potentially claustrophobic-heavy chamber piece.
And for a while there, these three directors did a decent job pulling off most of the dramatic parts during the elaborate jury-room sequence as Xu uses his hypnosis skills against each of the jurors. It also helps that Nick Cheung’s perfectly restrained performance along with the six other cast members who play the jurors all deliver adequate supports in their otherwise limited roles.
Now, if only Guilt By Design <催眠·裁决> sticks to its chamber-piece angle and placed more effort from there, it would have been a better-than-expected effort. But the movie almost derails when the three directors attempt to spice things up by adding obligatory action sequences involving Xu’s brother-in-law and former PLA captain Yang Kai played by Zhang Han in a wooden performance. It’s like as if these directors can’t trust their audiences enough to accept a purely HK chamber-piece suspense drama for a change. Even with the help of veteran choreographer Chin Ka-Lok, the action sequences look like they are hastily put together while surprisingly lacking sufficient verve and flair.
While it’s far from a great movie that it could have achieved, Guilt By Design <催眠·裁决> remains a decent and fairly entertaining effort from these three young filmmakers.