Victim (1999)

Directed by: Ringo Lam
Written by: Ringo Lam, Joe Ma & Ho Man Lung
Producers: Ringo Lam & Joe Ma
Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Amy Kwok, Emily Kwan, Ngai Sing & Joe Lee

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2000:
Best Director (Ringo Lam)
Best Actor (Lau Ching Wan)
Best Cinematography (Ross Clarkson)
Best Sound Design

Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2000:
Film Of Merit

I've always liked the style in the movies directed by Ringo Lam. City On Fire will of course always be his most famous film since it indeed is a classic but also that Quentin Tarantino 'borrowed' scenes from that and put into his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs. Ringo's movies has on many occasions featured a police theme combined with scenes of fairly realistic and gritty violence and while Victim has those elements, it also tosses in a supernatural theme. It isn't a fully satisfying experience but nonetheless a very good and well executed thriller.

One night a parking garage attendant hears two shots on the floor above. Moments later he is brutally run over by a van and police is called to the scene. Inspector Pit (Tony Leung Ka-Fai from A Better Tomorrow 3) begins his investigation and quickly finds an abandoned car belonging to Manson Ma (Lau Ching Wan from Running Out Of Time). The surveillance tape in the garage shows Manson being kidnapped but it's not long until police are notified where they can find the victim of this kidnapping. He is said to be located at a hotel, which is believed to be haunted. After a tense search they do find a shaken up Manson Ma but his behaviour is very mysterious. Is it trauma from the crime that was committed against him or is he affected somehow by the spirits maybe residing in the hotel? Pit doesn't believe at all in the ghost theory and makes it his mission to find out what happened to Manson. Slowly the truth is brought to the surface...

Hong Kong movies have never steered away from mixing different elements of genres into one picture but here this mix could've been more risky to do since it is a straight out serious and dark tale we got here. Thankfully Ringo Lam is such an experienced director and he never lets one element dominate the other.

In the beginning parts of the movie, during the search for Manson Ma, we get to experience a search of the maybe haunted hotel. Here Ringo brings out all the text book horror clichés such as thunder and lightning, doors slamming shut, chilling winds and so on. Your classic haunted house experience basically. Somehow he manages not to make this scene corny but quite tense and scary in my opinion. By this point we're already hooked into the story and that makes us sort of forget about this cliché ridden scene. Of course clichés can be done in a good way and thanks to moody cinematography and nicely choosen camera angles, Ringo pulls this one off.

The directing of the movie itself isn't too noticeable and the camera does for the most time move in a way that blends well with the events portrayed on the screen. It is in the few action scenes that the camera work goes into a more chaos oriented mode, something I rarely see being done well. It's purpose is of course to create panic and chaos but you have to get a sense of where you are and what is going on. Through good editing and despite shaky cam, these scenes play out rather nicely and adds a good adrenaline rush after the more quiet moments in the film. The violence on display is, as mentioned, pretty brutal but never feels out of place in the context of the story and it feels suiting for what the characters in it would do.

The script, written by Ringo Lam and Joe Ma, is smartly structured and it's very deliberately slow paced. The mystery is revealed very sparingly and during the first half of the movie I was very intrigued about what had happened and what was going to happen next. I found the pacing to be excellent but I think some viewers may be a bit frustrated by the fact that the movie takes it's time to reveal things. While we're waiting for the truth to be told, the character development is nicely shown. I will not go into the character of Manson Ma since it may be ruin your enjoyment of the film and the mystery surrounding the character. I will however say that I thought it was well written and well played, which brings us to the acting...

The last movie I saw Lau Ching Wan in was the wonderful La Brassiere and there he showed great comedic skills. I thought that it would be hard seeing him in a serious role after that movie but my worries were soon laid to rest. Lau Ching Wan is one of those actors who doesn't need to say much to reach great heights as an actor. He has, during the beginning third of the movie, very little dialogue and is mostly seen acting very unstable mentally. He goes through some changes during the course of the movie and Lau Ching Wan doesn't seem to have a problem shifting gears so to say. An excellent performance that was well worth being nominated or even awarded for that matter.

Tony Leung Ka-Fai has never really impressed or stood out in the few movies I've seen with him. For example, in People's Hero he played a pretty much straight cop role and didn't get to do much. I should note that I've never thought Tony was a bad actor, I just haven't seen him in a more demanding character role. His part in Victim is a pretty thankless one. He's the workaholic cop who has almost forgotten about his family and concentrates only on the case in hand. Nothing groundbreaking but if you look at the characters place in THIS story, it works pretty good. Tony gets better and better as the film progresses and has a few scenes where he shows nice raw emotion. It's a solid performance and also a memorable one.

Among the supporting players I liked Amy Kwok the best. She plays the girlfriend of Manson Ma and her questioning of her boyfriends sanity is played in a subdued but kind of sweet way by Amy. Ngai Sing (from Red Wolf) and Joe Lee (from Bullets Over Summer) turns up as bad guys and what can you say more about them other than that they're bad guys. Didn't hurt the film in any way though.

Late in this review I'm going to talk about Victim's slowly unveiling mystery again. We as viewers are constantly trying add the pieces to the puzzle but are never really given any solid clues as to what is really going on, until late in the film. When it's revealed I didn't feel the payoff was as good as I'd hoped. Sure the movie was still fascinating but I had hoped for something more powerful I guess. The twists and turns in the plot are at times also a little hard to follow towards the end. Ringo does leave us with some questions unanswered but this I thought was a case of letting the audience make up their mind about the final events of the film.

After Victim had finished I was pleasantly surprised. The 103 minute running time was quite involving and it's a worthy and well recommended entry in Ringo Lam's filmography.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the movie in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and while Mei Ah isn't known for their stellar track record, I was very disappointed. What brings the transfer down is the large amounts of white specks and vertical lines on the print. Many scenes play out in dark settings and the specks are really distracting. The print has pretty good colours and has decent sharpness at times but I know that Mei Ah can do better than this.

We get sound options in Cantonese and Mandarin along with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks for both languages. The original Cantonese track sounded good to me with music spread out nicely across the front speakers. The surrounds were used to good effect also in the more creepy scenes.

The English subtitles are actually pretty good. The font used is easy to read and there were not a lot of spelling or apparent grammatical errors. The other subtitles available are traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Korean, Bahasa Malaysian, Bahasa Indonesian Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai.

The usual crappy Mei Ah extras turn up here. In the Data Bank there's a plot synopsis (which for once doesn't reveal the whole movie) and a cast & crew listing. The trailers for this movie and Wilson Yip's Bullets Over Summer rounds off the disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson