Derek Yee has made a lot of films I’ve enjoyed. He produced Insanity and left the directing to Lee Kuan Yew.
Not the Singaporean politician.
This other Lee Kuan Yew is a director. His English name is David Lee.
Though let’s be honest, you’d probably rather watch a movie directed by David Lee Roth than Lee Kuan Yew the politician.
I know I would. But who cares what I think?
Insanity tells the story of an ambitious young doctor played by Huang Xiaoming, and a troubled, middle-aged murderer played by Lau Ching Wan. The trailer makes it seem like the movie is a psychological showdown between these two actors, like some kind of mental duel. That’s not really the case.
In fact, Lau Ching Wan is a Chinese vampire.
I joke, of course.
I won’t tell you what Insanity is really about, but I don’t feel bad telling you what it isn’t. These kinds of movies are always difficult, because of the genre conventions and the temptation to incorporate psychobablle and name-dropping. I’m not saying that happens here, I’m just trying to explain that a literal psychological thriller is always a very tough movie to make well. The keys to it are the script and the cast.
Insanity is a welcome showcase for Lau Ching Wan, one of Hong Kong’s best actors. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play his role so authoritatively. He’s subtle, layered, and very entertaining. Huang Xiaoming is lucky to be half as good.
And I mean that literally.
The first half of the movie, Huang’s character is well suited to his acting abilities. But when the plot twists, I think he kind of gets thrown out of the vehicle.
Or under the bus.
He’s simply not a good enough actor to carry the dramatic weight of the role. He certainly tries though.
Boy, does he try.
But to be fair to him, the script, written by the director, isn’t doing him any favors. Like I said, these movies are extremely hard to do well. Still, even if the story isn’t great, a lot of the acting is. As I already said, Lau Ching Wan is a pleasure to watch.
He’s so good, I don’t mind saying it twice.
The supporting cast are also impressive. Nina Paw plays a mother in law none of us would want. She may be crazy, or she may just be a mother in law.
If you’ve ever been married, you know what I mean.
Fiona Sit plays Huang Xiaoming’s girlfriend, and it was nice to see her playing a woman and not a girl. Michelle Ye is also impressive in a small role. Often these smaller roles seem to be tossed off without a lot of care or attention. But here it seems like care was taken not just in the casting but also the acting.
Michelle Wai only appears in one scene in the film, but she was really, really impressive. Her portrayal of a young junkie woman was terrifyingly accurate.
Don’t ask me how I know what insane junkie women are like. Just trust me when I say that she nailed it.
Those kinds of roles are usually the low point of local film, because actors (and especially actresses) seem to have little or no experience with that life or the people who live it. And that is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. The problem is that when they play those people, it often comes off like an after-school special or an anti-drug PSA.
I also want to point out that the fake tattoos on Michelle’s arms were really well-done and unusually realistic.
Insanity isn’t a bad movie, and there’s a lot to recommend it, but it’s very obvious that the writer/director was trying very hard to impress us. I guess directing is the opposite of sex: the first few times you’re allowed to direct a movie, you try to do too much and expend way too much time and energy trying to show how skillful you are, making great effort to be inventive, and overthinking a lot of it.
The first time most of us had sex, it probably lasted about as long as a teaser trailer and probably was a lot less impressive.
Speaking of impressive, I want to point out the really great use of sound and music, and sound editing, in Insanity. It contributed to the film and helped heighten the impact of some scenes.
Insanity isn’t great, but like I said it almost couldn’t be. Psychological thrillers are almost always predictable because of the genre, so you’re left with being excited about the ride. I’ll recommend watching Insanity for the acting. There’s a lot to be entertained with on that level, and I enjoyed the vast majority of the performances.
I got to attend a press screening for Insanity. I was very honored, but my seat was in the front row. That’s great for concerts. But not for movies.
Then again, considering the ticket was free, maybe I need to shut what they call ‘the f@#$ up.’