My Better Half (1993)

Directed by: Lam Yi-Hung
Written and produced by: Luk Pak-Sang
Starring: Cindy Yip, Eliza Yue, Chan Ji-Hung, Wong Wan-Choi, Chan Kin-Yat, Lee Yuet-Sin, Lee Wai-Gwan & Lee Chung-Ling

You can almost imagine writer and producer Luk Pak-Sang approaching director Lam Yi-Hung (The Other Side Of Dolls) with the idea of making three stories for one Category III film but merely giving him the bare bonus technically to shoot with. Resulting in a micro budget, sensibly told and made short story collection by a director often working his skills with the sparse. It's obviously below Lam's standards, especially visually, but there is a sense here of a director willingly engaging himself and working with what's available. I guess it's called a challenge.

Coming off as mild, soft, low budget but with filmmaker of note attached, My Better Half is still unexpectedly swift and engaging because the makers do not stretch out a story over 90 but rather 30 minutes at a time. And why make feature length softcore porn/ghost/revenge/relationship drama when you only have the skeleton of a brief exploration. Leading to My Better Half landing way more favorably.

The first story opens during World War II (shown in stock footage) but otherwise we spend the majority of our time inside a brothel where one of the young prostitutes Flora (Cindy Yip) falls for Master Chee and they're eventually allowed to get married. Flora is a bit too sexual for her own good and literally screws her husband to death however. Given a second chance by the King Of Hell, the couple try ticking off a required amount of sexual positions before dawn sweeps the husband away to hell. Lam Yi-Hung doesn't even seem to have time to experiment with lighting and photography so most of these shorts are brightly lit and staged in a basic manner. Yet he doesn't come off as lazily painting the picture through staging and pace of dialogue. There's even some commentary about workers being stripped off their earnings but otherwise the initial story is a somewhat quiet, gentle to the touch erotic ghost story that ticks off the beats and then it's done.

At the expense of character depth and investment though but the half hour is over quickly and then we switch to the 1960's. Eliza Yue is back as a variation of her Mama-san character but if the first at best had limited opportunity for style, this relationship tragedy goes for the naturalistic so even less resources are needed. What it doesn't go for or can't due to constraints seemingly is the bloody gut punch that is the Hong Kong cinema melodrama. A great looking Lee Yuet-Sin is emotionally engaged, trying to make money by prostituting herself to get her ill husband an operation, it's both quick, entertaining and highly interesting how the supercharged can appear timid as well. Soft isn't subtle here but rather tragedy painted in blood comes off as the 10 dollar version of it. The experiment that so many more Cat III movies should've conducted is fun though, not inept and the echoes of The Untold Story then dominates the last third as the mentally unstable and possessive woman Lee Wai-Gwan plays is arrested, interrogated and shares the details of the death of her husband.

Looking glamorous and armed with the right unhinged glare, director Lam passes the time efficiently but you wish the style clearly in him was going to get unleashed because the opportunity to display psychotic break through a kaleidoscope of colors and gritty bloodshed was there (admittedly his camera does love Lee however). Here the same thread of no budget and mild rears its head and you wish yet another effective half hour of story had more bite Considering its plot. But we also come back to the fact that My Better Half is a welcome Category III experiment that ticks off three ideas clearly not suitable for feature length. Lam Yi-Hung also executes with an aura of professionalism you wouldn't have blamed him for leaving at home since we was only given the minimal to play with. But the accomplished director showed up.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson