MRS K (2016) review

mrsk-poser

Mrs K (Kara Hui) is wife to a meek gynecologist (Wu Bai) and mother to a pouty fifteen year-old (Siow Li Xuan), living a peaceful life in a quiet suburban neighborhood. But, as her lightning-fast reflexes might indicate when two hapless burglars get into her house, her past is not as benign as her present. It soon emerges that more than a decade ago she took part in a brutal heist – and her partners in crime (played by directors Fruit Chan, Kirk Wong and Dain Said) are now getting killed one after the other by Scarface (Simon Yam), a dirty cop who played both sides during the heist, and ended up with a bullet in the head from Mrs K. Driven mad by the migraines and sleep-deprivation that resulted from this injury, Sarface kidnaps Mrs K’s daughter and demands a hefty ransom.

Touted as Kara Hui’s action swan song (though she’s already back in action in this year’s FOX TV series Stained), Ho Yuhang’s Mrs K is actually rather light on action scenes. It is also light on plot and light on emotion. In fact the only thing it lays on thick, is Fugu’s enjoyable but on-the-nose score, which alternates between Spaghetti western Morriconisms and eighties electronica – two of the most resorted-to musical references when it comes to supplying a film with contrived atmosphere. Though Wu Bai doesn’t exactly make for a believable gynecologist, the family dynamic between him, Hui and Siow is reasonably warm and convincing, so that the latter’s kidnapping provides a reasonable amount of urgency. What is less convincing, is Mrs K’s frustratingly vaguely-outlined criminal past (so she took part in a heist – what else?), and the very muddled nature of Scarface’s plan: after his initial killing spree and kidnapping, he mostly noodles around, whining about his injuries and the tragedies that have beset him.

Still, Simon Yam is on top form here, bringing such tormented sadness and demented resentment to the character, that Scarface can be seen as the embodiment of the hollow nature of vengeance, and the cloudiness of his plight and plan contribute to a tragic portrait of a man deteriorating. Too bad the film constantly introduces cartoonish or forgettable side characters that only crowd it and dilute its momentum: a dirty cop (played by Tony Liu, co-star of Kara Hui in many a Shaw Brothers film), a blonde sadist, a bumbling couple assisting Scarface, a female fighter, and many other very thinly-drawn villains. The film unfolds at a staggered pace, never building up any energy, achieving only fleeting moments of true impact. The action is sparse but solid, un-flashy and mean: Kara Hui acquits herself superbly (which is hardly a surprise) in those rare moment of bone crunching, but more importantly she radiates throughout the whole film. Instantly believable both as a charming housewife and as a deadly threat, her vulnerability is as affecting as her charisma is steely, and the film is never better than when she interacts with Yam. That the film comes up short as an action swan song is irrelevant: Kara Hui is too dynamic and too vital an actress for swan songs of any kind.

Long Story Short: Despite sparse action, a staggered pace and a half-baked plot, Mrs K manages to entertain and at times be affecting, thanks to superb turns by Kara Hui and Simon Yam. **1/2

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