INSANITY (2014) review

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David Lee’s second film after the little-seen teen horror thriller Yes, I Can See Dead People, Insanity is produced and co-written by Derek Yee, and tells of Fan (Lau Ching Wan), who became a neurotic shell of a man following the death of his child, and frequently lets out his anger and grief on his wife Wai Ling (Michelle Ye), forbidding her to go out and suspecting her at every turn. Until one night, in a fit of jealous rage, he accidentally kills her by pushing her out of a window. He’s declared insane in court and committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he’s placed under the care of Dr. Chow (Huang Xiaoming) a young and promising doctor who is fast rising to the top of his field, though he’s neglecting his girlfriend Bo Yi (Fiona Sit) in the process. Three years later, Chow vouches for Fan’s release against the advice of his colleague Dr. Lui (Alex Fong), declaring him cured. Life on the outside proves difficult for the former madman, as his former mother-in-law (Paw Hee Ching) keeps harassing him and guilt remains vivid. One night, while attempting to commit suicide, he accidentally kills a homeless junkie. But Dr. Chow, who’s close to becoming hospital director, is determined to safeguard his reputation : if word got out that the patient he vouched for actually killed someone else after being released, the consequences for his career would be dire. And so he covers up the junkie’s death, and things start going from bad to worse.

Insanity is one of those films that stop being surprising when they start trying to be surprising. For 50 minutes it moves along grippingly, throwing clever red herrings, while more importantly creating a fairly strong emotional undercurrent. Michelle Ye makes the most of her one scene and delivers a gut-wrenching turn as the beleaguered wife, while Paw Hee Ching is both pathetic and creepy as her grief-stricken mother. And while Fiona Sit doesn’t get much to do as Dr. Chow’s girlfriend, Mo Chun Fai has a poignant subplot as his terminally ill boss and mentor. Then the film starts pulling twists that could be seen coming a mile off, and while it remains entertaining, the predictability and over-explanatory tone rob it of the mystique it had carefully constructed in the first half. Quite simply, it is not as clever and startling as it wants to be. Still, the film’s central face-off is a compelling and beautifully played one. Huang Xiaoming convincingly portrays his character’s slide to the edge, shifting gradually from self-assured smarm to crippling doubt. But there’s no doubt the film belongs to Lau Ching Wan, whose performance powers the story with layered humanity and chilling expressions of vacillating reason, without ever indulging in showiness. Chan Chi Ying’s phantasmagoric cinematography and Leon Ko’s classy score also contribute to carrying the film through its less convincing patches.

Long Story Short : Insanity isn’t as clever or surprising as it thinks it is, but it is carried through by strong performances and confident artistic direction. ***

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