Final Justice (1997)

Directed by: Derek Chiu
Written by: Lu Bing & John Chan
Producer: Johnnie To
Starring: Lau Ching-Wan, Eric Tsang Almen Wong & Carman Lee

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Father Li (Lau Ching-Wan) brings shame on the church after inviting abused woman Donna (Almen Wong - Her Name Is Cat) just a few steps too far into his divine arms. She creates a temptation in him, leading to sex and while that wasn't enough of an ethic crime, 2 days later she files a police report, claiming Li raped her. Unstable gangster Kim (Eric Tsang) becomes Li's only hope to score a good lawyer to plead his innocence...

Bringing with him the writing team behind the award winning The Log (1*), Derek Chiu's first out of three works for Milkyway (2*) not only remains an obscure entry in the production house's filmography (Johnnie To himself does overshadow most of the output) but it's an unusual genre mix, focusing largely on a thematic beneath the surface that speaks in an interesting manner. The design of Final Justice eventually turns to court drama esthetics and therefore loses some of the actual excellent steps taken prior.

Quite complex automatically as it deals with issues of religion, the central question of "how true do you stay to your beliefs" plants itself firmly inside the viewers head and rarely lets go. Having Lau Ching-Wan as the priest with a childhood friend turned gangster invited just like any other torn, immoral soul would into catholicism jeopardizes eventually the role of the church in the eyes of the law system but doesn't being true allow for so called ethic missteps? It's a thin line to walk, especially when the main plot kicks in and the title Final Justice expectedly begin taking on its conflicted meaning.

Derek Chiu, subsequently flashing fine intelligence in films like Comeuppance, turns out to have a fine grasp of the rampant symbolism surrounding Father Li's inner pressure and turmoil. Take such scenes of him washing not only his collar free of lipstick but obviously sin, that is on paper cringe inducing in its pretentious ways but Chiu steers well clear of trappings such as this. Especially so since he has Lau Ching-Wan very much in character to the subtle degree the film requires. A roller coaster ride of inner conflict lies ahead and it's easy to spot that so called proper storytelling outcomes won't come out of Final Justice. Furthermore in regards to Li's relationship with gangster Kim, it's not a stretch to believe that Li willingly takes confession upon confession about Kim's murder sprees and even at his lowest, doesn't betray the trust of the quite obnoxious Don Corleone of the piece. I'm doing that cliché comparison because Eric Tsang's performance is a fair bit problematic. Well capable of being menacing, Tsang sets his gear into high and the over the top behaviour doesn't fully do the favours it needs to for the relationship with Father Li to reach full viewer satisfaction. Sure Tsang showcases a distance to past goofiness but nevertheless...

Director Chiu does continue to do things right though, even taking his sweet time to kickstart the main plot and also adding a few humorous quirks of his own. His very apparent visual style does seem like an ill-fit however, choosing tired dissolves within dialogue scenes to say...well....nothing really other than attempting to distinguish himself and even though the reels of court room drama are devoid of this, Final Justice turns less interesting and more standard instead of ringing true to an attempt to further the thematic set up prior. Oh that is Chiu's intention but pedestrian is the key word here and while all things concerned receives a pay off, Chiu is never able to follow up some terrific mood and themes from earlier parts of the film.

Then again to his credit and Johnnie To's, Final Justice isn't like the Milkyway output of today and past. It deals in social debate, more specifically the ethic role of a priest and the film is easily worth a few minutes of panel discussion post end credits. The question is if viewers will remember what was the drawing power for roughly half this drama however.

The DVD:

Also available from Mei Ah, Mega Star's presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.76:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. With that advantage over Mei Ah's old disc, the transfer still isn't the most vivid or sharp but is reasonable in most departments. Print damage is kept low as well.

Part of a newly released batch of 16:9 discs under the banner Mega Star Collection, this is one that wasn't initially prepared for the Japanese market and was therefore spared a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The 2.0 mono presentation has a few early damages to the track and distortion rears its head on a few occasions. Otherwise the synch sound recording sounds fairly clear. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The English subtitles does carry some awkward grammar- and spelling errors throughout but it's only distracting if you truly want it to be. Traditional and simplified subtitles are also available. There are no extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Co-starring with Michael Wong, Kent Cheng received a Hong Kong Film Award for his performance. Furthermore on the writers, Lu Bing had a hand in penning a number of cop movies in the 90s including Organized Crime & Triad Bureau and Rock N'Roll Cop for Kirk Wong. With John Chan, many commercial vehicles have come from the man such as King Of Beggars and the Fong Sai Yuk movies but his acclaimed work with Ann Hui on Eighteen Springs and being the director of Memory Of The Youth helps to create an aura of respect around John.

(2) Sealed With A Kiss and the hugely underrated, off-beat delight Comeuppance followed in 1999 and 2000 respectively.