Soi Cheang last directed a Milkyway production back in 2012, which was an action thriller starring Shawn Yue and Anthony Wong titled Motorway <車手>. It’s nice to see him back in the director’s chair under the same production banner — his first in 11 years since that aforementioned movie.
The result is Mad Fate <命案>, marking Cheang’s 2021 follow-up to his award-winning black-and-white crime thriller Limbo <智齒>. Both movies happen to star Lam Ka-Tung but instead of playing the usual cop/criminal role, the veteran actor tackles the role of a neurotic fortune teller simply named “The Master”. The movie opens with a darkly-comic moment as The Master tries to “bury” a prostitute alive. The reason? Cheating death by altering her fate because according to his astrological calculation, she will soon meet her doom.
Of course, things do not go as planned and in a true Milkyway fashion, the story — credited to Yau Nai-Hoi and Melvin Li Chun-Fai, where the latter previously co-wrote Cheang’s Dog Bite Dog <狗咬狗> — triggers a series of unexpected/ill-fated events. Let’s just say it has something to do with The Master crosses paths with a deliveryman named Siu Tung (Lokman Yeung of the boy band MIRROR) and a serial killer simply credited as “The Murderer” (Peter Chan Charm-Man) in a flat. A gruesome murder takes place and Siu Tung seems to be obsessed with the death of the victim and the blood all over the floor.
Then, there’s a veteran police inspector (Berg Ng), who happens to be on the scene. He and his team are hot on the trail to track down The Murderer but the latter manages to escape. We also learn the police inspector used to put Siu Tung in prison for killing a cat many years ago. The Master, in the meantime, determines to help Siu Tung by reversing his fate because the latter is destined to become a psychotic killer if he keeps walking down the dark path.
I can’t help but Cheang seems to be emulating Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai’s Running on Karma <大隻佬> since both movies shared the recurring themes of fate, destiny and consequences. There’s an obvious shade of Mad Detective <神探> with Lam Ka-Tung channelling Lau Ching-Wan’s role of a crazy and unstable personality. The elaborate opening sequence from the graveyard moment to the fate of the three primary characters encountering each other sets the bleak tone perfectly. And while it looks like a step in the right direction, I’m almost convinced that Mad Fate <命案> is going to be one of the best Milkyway movies ever made.
The engaging setup aside, what follows next is Cheang’s attempt to go wild with a hodgepodge of various genres intertwined altogether. He wants it to be a thought-provoking drama about how one is able to challenge fate no matter if it’s already set in stone.
The recurring visual motif of ominous dark, shifting clouds and thunderstorms, albeit in a spotty CGI is equivalent to a manifestation of a higher power destined to overshadow everything. Lam Ka-Tung’s The Master role is like a highly-determined individual who refuses to give up even if the circumstances seem to be impossible to reverse in the way he wants them to be.
Frankly, it’s hard not to reflect the movie’s storyline with the city’s social unrest in recent years and a cry for freedom. Even if the movie isn’t — intentionally or otherwise — tied to its metaphorical context, Cheang and his screenwriters’ underlying themes have a fascinating storytelling hook addressing fate.
Cheang also incorporated the assorted blend of a madcap comedy and a gritty crime drama, complete with Peter Chan Charm-Man’s antagonist role reminds me of a psychopathic Category III-era villain. He plays the cold and remorseless serial-killer role well, whose otherwise mild-mannered and bespectacled gentleman masked a sick personality. Lokman Yeung deserves equal mention here as a disturbed young man, who has a history of mental problems. Lam Ka-Tung’s unhinged performance as The Master is gleefully over-the-top and he certainly has a field day playing the role. Finally, Berg Ng is perfectly typecast as a determined police inspector.
Mad Fate <命案> somehow falters largely in the midsection as the movie increasingly becomes uneven, leading to an underwhelming finale. Cheang’s overreliance on CGI — the clouds, thunderstorms and even CGI cats (black cats, to exact) — tends to dilute the bleak nature of the storytelling with its glaring artificiality. It’s far from a great Milkyway production but Mad Fate <命案> remains a reasonably good watch for a genre-bending fare.