Film Review - The Empty Hands
As it's Fathers day today (UK & Eire), it seemed fitting to review this film, which isn't an obvious choice, but as I watched this as part of Focus Hong Kong Film Festival back in February, Chapman To's second film struck a chord with me and I'm sure it will with you too. This idea, that you never know when your times is up and when all is said and done, will you still stand by your words and actions?This is how we're introduced to Mari Hirakawa (Stephy Tang - L for Love, L for Lies Too) a 30 something living an erratic life, with no destination. Forever moving here and there, knowing, if she stayed put for two minutes, she could be in a better place, somewhere else other than 'here'. Stuck in a 'comfort zone', she forces it to suit her lonely character and somewhat mundane life, if just to annoy her dad, Akira Hirakawa (Yasuaki Kurata - Blood: The Last Vampire, Shinjuku Incident), a karate teacher, who moved to Hong Kong in the 70s. The film touches on the frailty of parent-child relationships and how things could have been different had she stuck to her fathers teaching or perhaps conversely, had her father not been so strict with his teachings. This is why I think it makes for a good Fathers Day film, as there is a discussion to be had about the importance of communication.
Mute Dog (Stephen Au - Body Weapon) arrives to the Hirakawa Dojo, to find his sensei lying on the floor. Realising Akira Hirawaka is dead, he informs Mari, who is upset at her dads passing, but somewhat disconnected, as they have had an unsteady relationship for years. During an inheritance meeting, where Mari expects, the family home turned dojo, to be given to her, she jokes with some seriousness to her loyal friend Peggy (Dada Chan - Vulgaria) about leading a life of leisure by converting and renting the unusually spacious Hong-Kong apartment into small flats. Devastated as only 49% is given to her, an unknown familiar, Chan Kent (Chapman To) receives the remaining 51%. Now, Mari has a new fight on her hands and as the drama unfolds, you realize that, yes, karate translates to empty hands, but the true meaning in this film is the dissatisfaction of life all the characters hold.
With Mari's mom having left the family home in her childhood, had her dad not left her part of the dojo, what would she have? Mute Dog for years has looked after the failing dojo, whilst he works as an underpaid wrestler. Men are only interested in Peggy sexually, despite her longing and dreaming about love with the right man. And then there is Chan Kent, whose consciousness and triad lifestyle don't sit in harmony.
Although the overall film is good, Wai Kai Tam and Karen Tang's cinematography are amazing and I found myself lost in some of the scenes, To's direction however was lost in many places. Firstly, we have a slow paced brooding family drama, then a Nicholas Winding-Refn noir style gangster sequence of events, next is a typically Chinese, lushy love part followed by a watered-down Rocky homage, which together, took away from what is really a powerful story and great cast. Along with the direction, the score just didn't fit with the visuals, a mix of classical pieces, traditional instruments and electronica. More of an after thought, than a curated piece. I'm starting to understand why people are saying Hong Kong isn't what it once was. Yes, it's not super-cop action films anymore, but stories like this go a long way and are pretty universal, it just needs to be executed better and have more visual consistency.
You should watch it though, for the story and cast alone, I don't think you'll be disappointed in that.
Director: Chapman To
Cast: Chapman To, Stephy Tang, Yasuaki Kurata
Language: Cantonese | Mandarin | Japanese
Country: Hong Kong
Runtime: 87 min