Legal Innocence

Reviewed by YTSL

In 2001, a sensational murder case -- one of whose more salacious details involved a human skull getting stuffed inside of the head of a Hello Kitty doll -- quickly spawned a couple of “true crime” dramas (One of which has “Human Pork Chop” as its stomach-churning title and the other of which announces that “There is a Secret in My Soup”).  Lest anyone forget, this double film adaptation was not an unprecedented action by Hong Kong movie makers.  Instead, eight years earlier, a gruesome murder that culminated in the dismembering plus acid bathing of the female victim -- and, in one cinematic instance, was preceded by the cooking and consumption of the soon dead person’s pet pooch -- had also been captured onto celluloid by two local production companies.

The Clarence Fok directed “Remains of a Woman” that was the second of the pair of well acted works to make it into local cinemas in 1993 got a better critical reception than the Cha Chuen Yee helmed plus co-produced offering that had been released four months before it.  This appears to have been due in large part to the at times very difficult to watch movie -- which I actually saw some years back but find hard to forget -- boasting a lead actress in the incredible Carrie Ng.  After having finally viewed the Mandarin Films production that preceded that which boasts a Golden Horse Best Actress award winning performance by Ms. Ng as the kind of misguided woman whose actions many more fortunate people don’t want to as well as just plain don’t understand though, here’s documenting my regret at neglecting to check out the more commercially successful plus conservatively rendered -- but still quite appropriately disturbing -- LEGAL INNOCENCE for as long as I did.
This is especially so because I reckon that back to back viewings of these two similarly themed offerings would have yielded much food for thought as well as a surely interesting plus illuminating study in contrast.  For one thing, the pair of deliberately unsettling films that bear the contrasting Chinese titles that translate into English as “A Heart Like Iron” (for that whose given English title is the more graphic “Remains of a Woman”) and “The Strange Case of the Dissolved Corpse” (whose way less colorful English title is that of LEGAL INNOCENCE) do not just differ stylistically.  Rather, they appear to offer up divergent interpretations as well as conflicting depictions of the personalities involved in what amounts to a couple of love triangles along with the events that led to the murder of one of the three females who are shown to have fallen for the strangely bewitching man portrayed by James Pak in the later production and more strongly by Francis Ng in the earlier one.
Furthermore (and while continuing to work on the assumption that my memory does serve me right about both movies), the two deservedly Category III rated efforts could be said to have a different focus.  More specifically, the brains behind the by far more memorable visuals filled “Remains of a Woman” looked to have concentrated mainly on the events that led up to the committing of a heinous crime.  Alternatively, the makers of the at times unfortunately eye-rollingly melodramatic (yet also more rationally constructed) LEGAL INNOCENCE looked to have been intent on covering the often quite puzzling developments that led to the dramatic re-trial -- or was it “merely” an appeal? -- of the accused murderers plus certain events that took place after that along with those occurrences that had led to the arrest of the lover and a romantic rival of the ill fated Brenda Wong (who was played by a breasts baring Ho Yan).
On a character and cast note: What this means is that whereas the main female character in “Remains of a Woman” was the real perennial loser in the pretty warped game of love (who continued to love nonetheless), the one in the limelight in LEGAL INNOCENCE is actually the Christian woman (essayed by the reliably competent Cecilia Yip) who ended up marrying the conniving man she first saw as a prison inmate and knew was so sickeningly adored by the troubled soul (played in this work by Ivy Leung) that she had initially sought to save.  Additionally, this allows for the inclusion in the Lam Kee-To, Rico Chung and Chung Oi Fong co-scripted film of a police detective character (portrayed by Anthony Wong) who functions as both the dogged questioner of why this work’s other characters would act in the way that they did but also a provider of (possible) answers to related plus no less intriguing queries.
All in all, the generally engrossing LEGAL INNOCENCE looks to have a larger cast of characters than “Remains of a Woman”.  To wit: Other individuals who have salient parts to play in its story -- even if theirs are obviously smaller roles than Cecilia Yip’s Shirley Cheung and Francis Ng’s Patrick Wong characters -- include the Christian social worker’s married boss and sometime lover, the lawyers who are played by the likes of Paul Chun Pui and Hui Siu Hung, a five men and two women jury, and the boy whose curiosity got the better of him when he entered a creepy apartment in search of a ball (and ended up making the kind of discovery that should furnish anyone with a life-time’s supply of nightmares).

My rating for this film: 6.5

Note -  the end Chinese subtitles are translated as:

"By law of Hong Kong, anyone who succeeded in appeal can't be sued by the same reason again, unless the person admits the guilt, and... has enough evidence to prove he committed the crime."

Thanks to Jane for the translation.