Friday, September 28, 2018

HK Cinema at SFFS ’18: Somewhere Beyond the Mist

This could be the easiest case a Hong Kong police detective ever worked, but it will still take quite an emotional toll. It is a case of parricide that hits close to home for the pregnant police inspector, who is struggling with her dementia-suffering father. Desperate people do horrific things in Cheung King-wai’s Somewhere Beyond the Mist (trailer here), which screens as part of the San Francisco Film Society’s annual Hong Kong Cinema series.

Angela and her husband seem to be doing well, judging by their stylish and relatively spacious (by HK standards) flat, but her father’s erratic behavior is a constant source of embarrassment. In contrast, Connie, a distressingly innocent looking high school student, lives in mean poverty that her stern but lecherous father makes exponentially more unpleasant.

One day, Angela draws the case of a middle-aged couple found strangled and dumped in the High Island Reservoir. It will not be much of a mystery, because Connie will stun the officer with a confession during a routine questioning. It will also be pretty clear why she did it when Cheung flashes backwards to give us lowlights from the young teen’s family life. Of course, she could not do it alone, but she easily manipulates her torch-carrying platonic friend Eric. The real question is the extent to which we consider her a monster and victim.  50/50? 30/70?

Mist is cold as heck, but completely absorbing. Sometimes it is painful to watch, but it is never exploitative or excessively heavy-handed. Frankly, there were at least half a dozen bullying and cyber-shaming films at this year’s NYAFF that were more soul-searing. However, Mist issues a direct challenge, using Angela as an audience proxy to ask just how far removed are we from the miserable and merciless Connie?

Rachel Leung Yung-ting is completely transfixing, profoundly heartbreaking, and totally terrifying as Connie. The impact of her performance is stunning, but it would be a grave mistake to overlook Stephy Tang’s quiet, more subdued work as Angela, because that is where the film’s real bite lies. Cheung gets another remarkable performance from young Zeno Koo, who leaves us even more conflicted with his achingly vulnerable work as poor, pliable Eric.

Best known as a documentarian, Cheung also has an eye for the widescreen, composing shots reminiscent of scroll paintings (shot with icy perfection by cinematographer Shermen Leung Shu-moon), which often relegate the dwarfed characters to a far corner. It is clearly an uncompromisingly auteurist work, but it is also deeply haunting. Recommended for patrons of serious world drama, Somewhere Beyond the Mist screens Saturday and Sunday (9/29 & 9/30) as part of this year’s edition of the SFFS’s Hong Kong Cinema 2018.