A Lamb In Despair – Who’s Lamb Is It, Anyway?

Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Category III/ Exploitation/ Suspense
Director: Tony Leung Hung-Wah
Year: 1999

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


With a title like A Lamb In Despair, you would expect it to be an exploitation ripoff of Silence Of The Lambs, but that isn’t it at all.

A Lamb In Despair is actually a fairly thoughtful psychological thriller, with very little gore or violence.

Mok Ga-Yiu has just returned to Hong Kong from the United States. While in the U.S., Mok was tried for the rape and murder of 25 women, but was acquitted.

Screenwriter Tony Leung Hung-Wah seems most interested in the reactions of different people to Mok’s presence in Hong Kong. Reporter Charles (Anthony Wong) sees Mok as a walking health menace. He writes articles about Mok, hoping the public pressure will force officials to expel Mok from Hong Kong. Social worker Karen Tong believes in the sacredness of the human soul, and holds the fervent belief (wish) that even the most lost person can be saved. She wants to help Mok, and sees Charles’ magazine articles about him as a provocation that might force Mok to commit crimes he otherwise wouldn’t have. DJ Sherming Yiu, who used to be Mok’s neighbor, believes in the rule of law. If Mok hasn’t been convicted of a crime, it’s wrong to hound him as the cops are doing. Most moving of all is Joe Cheung, Mok’s father, whose job as a police inspector kept him away from home all too much while Mok was growing up. He passively allowed his wife to abusively discipline their son, and now blames himself for what Mok has become. There is little doubt of that, of course, even before Mok resumes his rape and murder spree.

Yet, Mok isn’t the usual psychopath found in these sorts of movies. He is fully aware of his own condition and is conflicted about it. Mok can even talk about it in clinical terms, but that doesn’t mean he has control of it.

Since A Lamb In Despair is a thoughtful rumination on the societal issues surrounding the criminally insane, the relatively naturalistic acting, as compared to the acting in Golden Age of Hong Kong Category III movies, is an asset.

Anthony Wong is reliably dry as the reporter. Mok Ga-Yiu does a good job of depicting the mentally unbalanced, perpetually enraged killer. Best of all is Joe Cheung as the killer’s father. The father’s love and grief for his son is haunting.

You might have noticed that even though A Lamb In Despair is a Category III flick about a deranged rapist/murderer, all I’ve done so far is drone on and on about the non exploitation aspects of the piece.

That’s because there is no actual violence until at least 40 minutes into the picture and when it happens, director Tony Leung Hung-Wah doesn’t dwell on it.

This is a risky approach for the filmmakers. Selling A Lamb In Despair as a straight psychological thriller instead of an exploitation piece requires a mastery of tone and narrative. Unfortunately, director Tony Leung Hung-Wah doesn’t have those kinds of filmmaking chops. Most notably, he can’t depict Mok’s mental illness convincingly, at least when he delves into subjective techniques that are meant to suggest Mok’s hallucinations and state of mind.

Just as damaging, the suspense scenes involving the threat of bodily harm are clumsy and ineffective.

What you’re left with is an attempt at a psychological thriller that has some merit but which is heavily flawed, and with the genre elements mostly bungled.

A Lamb In Despair is frankly more interesting than I expected, but I still can’t quite bring myself to recommend it.

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