The Floating Body – The Prodigal Son

Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Horror/ Action/ Drama
Director: Lam Yee-Hung
Year: 1995

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

NOT WORTH YOUR TIME

The Floating Body starts out so poorly, I was ready to dismiss it after ten minutes, but it improves so radically that it almost, but not quite reaches worthwhile status.

As our story opens, Li Chien Wan (Ben Ng), is lounging on the sofa of his brother’s house, watching the boob tube, chomping on snacks, swigging beer, and smoking. When his sister-in-law Yin (Lily Chung) gets home, she picks a fight, swearing at him for being a layabout and demands that he pack up and leave. Wan tries to mollify her but when she gets physical, going so far as to bite him on the shoulder, he pushes back and Yin ends up with the back of her head bashed in on the corner of a table.

Knowing how the police are going to see this, Wan disposes of the body and disappears.

When parts of Yin start to float to the surface of Hong Kong harbor, the police investigate.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that premise, but in the early scenes, writer/director Lam Yee-Hung does almost everything wrong. As scripted and directed, Yin just seems like a psycho bitch. In fact, she has ample reason to want Wan out of the house. If Lam Yee-Hung had only given her the dialog, Lily Chung could have pulled it off. You know, stuff like “You’ve been lounging around the house for two months. I’m not going to let you bankrupt my husband. He may be naive and weak, but I’m not.” As written, the argument doesn’t proceed organically. It isn’t believable.

Then, after Yin is accidentally killed, Lam Yee-Hung makes the absurd mistake of having Wan smoking pot to psych himself up to disposing of the corpse. The pot would calm Wan down and make him more peaceful, not awaken his inner psycho, as Lam Yee-Hung seems to imply.

Some fans of gore will be pleased with the scenes depicting the disposal of the body. They are quite graphic, and under different circumstances, might have been disturbing. But since the characters have no reality, the would-be horror elements have little impact.

Fortunately, Lam Yee-Hung’s writing and direction improve drastically after that disastrous opening. The scenes of Officer Au (Bobby Au-Yeung) investigating the crime have a nice wry feel to them. Flashbacks are seamlessly integrated into the story, revealing the circumstances that led up to the crime.

It seems that Wan isn’t evil, just the sort of person who doesn’t believe that success should entail paying your dues.

We get a good dozen well rounded characters, including Wan, his brother Li Wai Wan (Wong Wan-Choi), and the parents (Kwan Hoi-San and Teresa Ha Ping). Everyone acts beautifully, even when given impossible dialog and direction by Lam Yee-Hung.

Unfortunately, writer/director Lam Yee-Hung handles Wan’s capture by the police in the laziest possible manner. He has Wan see Yin’s ghost and freak out so much that he calls attention to himself. This plays as retarded as it sounds.

It’s kind of interesting. As long as writer/director Lam Yee-Hung sticks to realistic, quotidian reality, he’s not bad at all, but when he gets into more extreme states of emotion, he flat out sucks, both as a writer and as a director.

It’s doubly a shame because in terms of technical credits, The Floating Body is often quite good. The cinematography by Paang Jun-Wai is lush, moody, and altogether first rate. The score by Sherman Chow, augmented by carefully chosen library music stolen from other movies, does much of the director’s work for him.

The Floating Body is half good, but the terrible parts drag it down too much to recommend.

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