Goddess Of Mercy (2003)
Directed by: Ann Hui
Being pestered by yuppie playboy Yang Rui (Liu Yun-Long), lowly cleaner at a Taekwondo gym He Yandong (Vicky Zhao - So Close, Shaolin Soccer) eventually budges and invites Yang into her single mother life. Feeling stabile for the first time in many years, she soon is reminded of the events that led her to this place. Events that involved the death of her husband Tiejun (Chen Jian-Bin) and she pushes the devoted Yang Rui away via the reveal that she was once an active drug enforcement officer called An Xin...
Ending up in commercial horror movie territory with Visible Secret in 2001 followed by the layered, taboo-ridden drama July Rhapsody the year after, Goddess Of Mercy seems to mix the areas visited, being more of a true Ann Hui movie that occasionally features the gloss of a gunplay thriller. Told partly in flashback, this Mainland China lensed, downbeat portrait of devotion musters up quite a bit of interest but ends up struggling with its particular arty and commercial styles, only to face up to the fact that it's a draw.
Hui challenges us by being vague and mysterious about the soft spoken He Yandong's past, giving us plentiful to be annoyed by in the character Yang Rui as well. Very much the yuppie dick who wont acknowledge 100 no's, he stands for all that's wrong with the quote unquote normal skirt-chasing males. Oh he goes through a change when he finds out He's actual name An Xin contains hidden burdens, whatever they are, but it seems quite insulting initially that we're supposed to side and be saddled with someone like Yang Rui. Risky and admirable to consciously degrade himself in the name of devotion sure and same applies to Hui's treatment of Ivy Ho's script. I'm sure anyone involved likes a challenge and so does this viewer. By being this reckless, you have to clinch it too though.
But Hui's usually reserved camera stays on target, giving herself and cinematographer Kwan Pun-Leung plentiful to work with (in particular using contrasting light for tension) and slowly we realize Ivy Ho probably has less of a positive world view. Something that plays with Hui as well based on works such as The Story Of Woo Viet and Eighteen Springs. The punishment will come and the reason for it does not radiate disinterest. Basically An Xin represents a character that can't make all of her choices. You can't save the world in a larger perspective as well as caring equally for your own small hemisphere. These notions collide in the meeting of what turns out to be Nicholas Tse's drug dealer Mao Jie. Despite being aided by the titular goddess of mercy around her neck, any involvement with Mao Jie will spell doom and any mercy directed upon An Xin will be in the form of being reclusive. Gosh darn it they learn slow though and much bloodshed later the message is hammered home.
Despite, Hui keeps the trains of thoughts on track, low-key mostly when not dealing in violence. She gets a good image match between lead Vicky Zhao and supporting player Tse. It's a case of the performers responding when the movie is in favourable mode, led nicely by Zhao who is suitably introvert in her latter stages of character-development (meaning beginning and end of the movie in this case) and a believable action heroine when needed. Tse saddled with a bad boy role still has the charisma and presence to pull that particular facet off but he signed on to some horrible character actions here, even if the worst one is off-screen thankfully. Suen Hoi-Ying probably stands out the most out of any performer as the rigid Captain Pan. A superior who quietly snaps out of his official role to show balanced care for the fate of what adds up to a little bit of a surrogate daughter relationship with An Xin. Credit Hui for eventually transferring Liu Yun-Long into the acceptable performing-wise also. Something that could rank as a rather smart direction as you'll see.
Still a step down after the well-honed high that was July Rhapsody, ultimately Goddess Of Mercy may seem like it's pleasing dual audiences but yet Ann Hui doesn't seem to abandon a whole lot of who she really is, stylistically and as a social commentator. The latter remains little to not overbearing, only the gory pessimism would probably be for some. Containing enough depth to warrant it, there might be on- and off glimpses of cinema wonder in Goddess Of Mercy but I'll take fair competence over steep dips into the cinema well no one associated with acclaim wants to end up in. A mainstay, with sometimes many detractors vs. admirers, Ann Hui proves she can shoot off hellish cinema with the best of them. But she should probably aim just a little to the left next time around.
Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.80:1 approximately. A solid presentation on all fronts with only minor print damage as a detraction.
Only sound option is the original Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 track but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles contains very minor errors and seemingly remain of high quality translation-wise throughout. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
On the extras front Universe offers up a weak package. Star's Files for Nicholas Tse, Vicky Zhao and Ann Hui contains mere filmography listings while the only trailer included is one for Herman Yau's Herbal Tea.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson