Two men try to reconcile and piece together their lives in Wong Chun’s directorial debut.
“Folks like us don’t have a clue.”
The quote above is true for a lot of things. In Wong Chun’s Mad World, this is especially true of the Hong Kong population’s ideas of how to deal with mental illness. Edison Chen plays Tung, a former financial analyst with bipolar disorder who has spent a few years in a mental health institute. After being cleared, he is taken in by his father Wong (Eric Tsang), a truck driver who lives in a tiny apartment with a shared kitchen and bathroom – very much in the business of his neighbours. As Wong struggles with his past as a negligent father, Tung tries to acclimate himself back into society, but finds it difficult when nobody will treat him as a real person.
From the beginning, it’s evident that the film is trying to showcase the way that Hong Kong society looks at mental illness; that is to say, without much sensitivity. Many people react to Tung’s bipolar disorder having only just heard of it, and not because of any particular actions that Tung has taken. This is evident everywhere: from the chatterboxes at the wedding to the rubberneckers at the supermarket, but it’s at its worst when Tung interacts with young boy Fruit, whose mother is happy to have Tung fix the radio but immediately judges him when her son is potentially at risk. Director Wong Chun and writer Florence Chan do a very good job of showing the immediate contrast in behaviours in the people in Tung’s life.
Both Eric Tsang and Shawn Yue are giving career-defining performances here. Tung must come to terms with a lot of his own history, and the way Yue navigates the complex series of emotions at play is excellent, done with extreme panache. Meanwhile Tsang’s usual affability makes his character’s often contradicting moments seem human. Wong is far from perfect, but is trying to make the right decisions. There’s something of a rivalry between father and son, as both try to prove they are capable of looking after the other, while both having their own reasons for doing so. Tungwants to prove he’s better, but is still angry at this father for leaving. Meanwhile,Wongwants to show he’s a better dad now, and won’t disappear to the mainland.
Wong is a character who wants to do the right thing, but never knows how to go about it. He’s been a certain type of person his whole life, so doing anything differently is quite the step out of his comfort zone. While we watch Tung come to terms with the present, Wong looks at his past actions to face up to the half-arsed father that he was is something that won’t be easy to do – or easy to watch – but it makes for a strong dynamic between father and son, and ultimately is why the film is as powerful as it is.
There’s a theme that runs throughout the majority of Mad World: Wong points out that “not everything can be outsourced”, and it’s a hard-learned lesson for everyone. The never-seen other brother Chun is talked about a lot: he left to live in the United States the first chance he could, and never sees his struggling family. Despite this, he advocates sending Tung’s mother to a home, with the younger son being the only one in the family who refuses to simply discard her like this. Meanwhle Tung himself is “outsourced” after a tragedy, and only returns years later when he’s more convenient to keep.
“Being an asshole is a convenient choice,” Wong muses near the end of the movie, and he’s not wrong. You turn a blind eye, or put problems aside. You “find yourself tonnes of excuses, saying you tried your best”. But ultimately you’re not helping anyone, or even yourself. It’s a lesson learned the hard way, and the screenplay combined with the skill both behind and in front of the camera lets us know this lesson very early on. The writing and directing duo are both very new to the Hong Kong film scene, but Mad World feels extremely professional, and only sometimes suffers from first-time heavy-handidness. Overall, definitely worth checking out.
Verdict: By giving its leads some tricky material to work with, Mad World becomes a complex, and emotionally satisfying drama.
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Distressing scenes: a couple
Powerhouse performances: 2
Restaurants: Who puts a table so goddamn close to a game of pool?
Crème brule: Arrive at the same time as the mains, sure
Chun: What a prick, right?
Mad World (2016)
Also known as: 一念無明
Director: Wong Chun
Writer: Florence Chan
Shawn Yue – Tung
Eric Tsang – Wong
Elaine Jin – Tung’s mother
Charmaine Fong – Jenny