Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mrs K is a great star vehicle for triple Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress winner Kara Wai (Film review)

The Hong Kong theatrical poster for this
Malaysia-Hong Kong-Mainland China co-production

Mrs K (Malaysia-Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2016)
-- Ho Yuhang, director and co-scriptwriter (with Chan Wai Keung)
-- Starring: Kara Wai (aka Kara Hui Ying Hung), Simon Yam, Wu Bai, Siow Li Xuan, Faizal Hussein

Being the long time Hong Kong film fan that I am, I first saw -- and was highly impressed by -- the lead actress of Ho Yuhang's Mrs K in late 1970s and early 1980s Shaw Brothers kung fu classics such as My Young Auntie (for which she was honored with her first Best Actress accolade at the Hong Kong Film Awards) and Legendary Weapons of China.  So imagine my surprise after returning to Asia on July 4th, 2003, to find that Kara Hui Ying Hung was looked upon as primarily a TV actress rather than a movie luminary at that point in time; and that when she did occasionally appear in a movie (e.g., Infernal Affairs II (2003) and Crazy N the City (2005)), it was mainly in supporting rather than starring roles.

In 2009, however the actress now more often credited as Kara Wai burst back into the limelight with another Hong Kong Film Award Best Actress-winning performance in At the End of Daybreak, and revealed that she still could be a ferocious action star in Peter Chan Ho Sun's intense Wu Xia two years later.  Now, after garnering a third Hong Kong Film Award Best Actress prize (with last year's Happiness), she's reunited with the Malaysian director of At the End of Daybreak and has an anchoring role in a film that looks to have been tailor-made for this actress who's shown over some three and a half decades that she possesses considerable dramatic and action chops.

Mrs K (Kara Wai) is the wife of a doctor (Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai) and mother of a taekwondo-practicing teenager (Malaysian newcomer Siow Li Xuan) who the movie's audience first sees at home in the kitchen.  Within minutes, however, the lady shows that she's not one to be trifled with when she comfortably deals with two young men whose gambling debts have got them attempting their first ever robbery.  And so easily did she turn the tables on those two fellows that you just know that she's got the kind of troubled past that will threaten to haunt her at some point.  

One afternoon, while the happy family are hosting a barbecue at their home, a Macanese man (Tony Lau Wing) claiming to be an old friend of Mrs K turns up.  A sleazy ex-cop seeking to blackmail her (with his knowledge of her participation in a Macao casino heist years ago), he doesn't realize that he's the hunted rather than hunter, and unwittingly leads one very angry, vengeful individual (Simon Yam) and his dangerous accomplice (Faizal Hussein) to the woman who years ago had very nearly killed him but, unfortunately for her -- and, especially, her three accomplices (directors Fruit Chan, Kirk Wong and Dain Iskandar Said) -- didn't.

With a story like that, it's pretty much a given that Mrs K will possess a number of action scenes, many of which have its titular character in the thick of it.  Especially when one considers that Kara Wai is now 57 years of age (and didn't have a stunt double for this film), the actress -- who looks to be in far better physical shape than many people 10 or even 15 years younger than her -- acquits herself tremendously well indeed; with credit also being due to action choreographer Adam Chan for staging fight (and chase) sequences that come across as realistic as well as gripping.

At the same time though, those expecting an all-out actioner need to realize that Ho Yuhang is far more of an arthouse drama director than action movie helmer.  So it is only to be expected that Mrs K will have a more languid pacing than might be expected along with quiet dramatic moments, dialogue-rich scenes and stylistic flights of fancy (some of which work better than others).  

Put another way: Mrs K does not serve up a straight-out adrenaline rush but, then, I sincerely doubt that it was meant to.  What it definitely does, however, is be a great star vehicle for Kara Wai.  When viewing the film, you'll be able to feel how much respect Ho Yuhang has for her -- and, through such as his general casting, how much of a love of Hong Kong movies (of yore) this Malaysian also has.

My rating for the film: 7.0 

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