Alex Fong and Carlos Chan in "The Attorney" (2021)

The Attorney 一級指控 (2021) Review

I have been looking forward to The Attorney <一級指控> ever since the legal drama was promoted in HKTDC Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (FILMART). That was back in 2019 and apart from the poster and trailer released at the time, the movie somehow went under the radar.

From there, there was a rumour that The Attorney <一級指控> ran foul of strict-as-usual Chinese censors due to the sensitive content. But whatever controversy that prevented the movie from seeing the light of day has finally been released, albeit with little fanfare after two years of waiting.

The movie follows a veteran barrister, Frankie Lui (Alex Fong Chung-Sun), who reluctantly take over a case from his rookie lawyer, Kelvin Ho (Carlos Chan). The case in question involved a drunken young man (Himmy Wong’s Dicky Lee), who is accused of murdering Angie (Zhen Qi), the daughter of a tycoon, Kwok Sai-Wing (Liu Kai-Chi). Dicky claims he is innocent and his grandmother, Auntie Chu (Nina Paw Hee-Ching) does whatever she can to hire the best lawyer available. She ends up getting Ho, who is initially recommended by a solicitor (Jeana Ho’s Jessica Cheung).

Upon learning about it, Lui decided to lead the case for some reasons that has to do with Auntie Chu. As the case goes on, Lui discovers there’s more to it than meets the eye, with one of them involving Tsang Chi-Wai’s (Justin Cheung) connection with Angie. If that’s not enough, Tsang happens to be a political candidate in the midst of an election and he is also the son of an influential figure (Kenneth Tsang’s Tsang Kwok-Shan).

Hong Kong legal dramas are rare these days and the last time such a genre made an appearance was the Nick Cheung-starred Guilt By Design <催眠·裁决> in 2019. The Attorney <一級指控> seems to be an ambitious legal drama worth checking out, given the involvement of the veteran TV director Wong Kwok-Fai, where HKTV’s The Election <選戰> (2014) and TVB’s Law dis-Order <律政強人> (2016) were among my favourite TV series. Both series featured Liu Kai-Chi in two of his best TV performances ever seen and it was sad that The Attorney <一級指控> turns out to be one of his last roles before his death in March this year.

Kenneth Tsang Kong, Justin Cheung and Liu Kai-Chi in "The Attorney" (2021)
Kenneth Tsang Kong, Justin Cheung and Liu Kai-Chi in “The Attorney” (2021)

Here, I’m expecting Liu Kai-Chi was given a prominent role similar to what he had in the two aforementioned series. It turns out that his tycoon role in The Attorney <一級指控> is more of a small appearance and although we get to see some of his usual dramatic acting prowess, his performance isn’t as significant as I originally expected in the first place.

Instead, the movie focuses mainly on Alex Fong, who also appeared in Law dis-Order <律政強人> and he does a decent job showcasing his no-nonsense portrayal as the barrister Frankie Lui. His co-star, Carlos Chan may seem he’s the right person to pull off a young hotshot lawyer. But it’s a pity that he tends to overact in some scenes. The rest of the supporting cast is mostly a mixed bag, where Nina Paw Hee-Ching, Justin Cheung and Kenneth Tsang Kong all provide adequate supports in their respective roles. However, Himmy Wong’s role as the accused young man is rather mediocre while Jeana Ho is underused in her role as a solicitor, who works for Lui.

Wong Kwok-Fai’s direction seems to be promising at first as he lays the groundwork for his legal drama, covering themes of injustice where the rich and powerful often get the upper hands, corruption and even political conspiracy. I was surprised that The Attorney <一級指控> manages to pass through Chinese censors, especially given some of its underlying themes. Then again, all the multiple themes portrayed in this movie are superficial and none of them is as thought-provoking as one might expect from a Hong Kong legal drama.

The story — credited to not one but a whopping five screenwriters including Alex Pao, Yan Pak-Ming, Finger Ho, Frances To and Lee Ho-Tin — is disappointingly flat as the movie goes on, despite its promising setup. What’s even more annoying is the movie’s penchant for spelling things out, particularly during the tedious third act for the one and only obvious reason — to appease the censors. Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise anyway since the movie turns out to be a Hong Kong and China co-production.

The Attorney <一級指控> also includes some action moments in an attempt to jazz up the otherwise dialogue-heavy movie. But they are more like an afterthought that is neither thrilling nor suspenseful. Frankly, given the calibre that I have seen from Wong Kwok-Fai’s TV works, I’m sure he can do better than this half-baked effort.

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