25 June 2002 | laadolf
Unflinching Look at Problematic subject matter
This is a film that has been unfairly saddled with criticism regarding its portrayal of the homeless and mentally ill, as well as its tendency to paint its titular subjects in violent terms. However, this is a rare breed of film for Hong Kong cinema, an unapologetic social commentary.
As subjects for film, mental illness and homelessness are not recognized as elements in the formula for success. Western society has no better answers for these social problems than the HK system presented in this movie. Social workers are usually overworked and underpaid. Social programs dealing with these problems often receive little public support and agencies charged with the oversight of such programs often have chronic funding issues.
"The Lunatics" casts big name HK stars as the homeless mental patients of its title. This pejorative term does not truly reflect on how the mentally ill are viewed by the film itself. By using the label as title, the film instead challenges the beliefs of the viewer.>
The film follows a social worker as he moves through his day, doing his best to make a difference in the lives of his clients. He is dogged by a reporter wishing to shine the questionable light of journalism onto the issues of mental illness and homelessness. Her presence proves problematic in ways that propel the plot forward.
Tony Leung Chiu Wai is almost unrecognizable in a book-ended performance as the inarticulate, childlike Doggie. Doggie hangs around a fish market, trying to connect with the people who shop and work there. His attempts to engage the fish market denizens in play instead create fear and panic. Leung Chiu Wai's performance is at once moving and frightening.
Chow Yun Fat is memorable in small but heartrending role as Chung, father of two who lives in the city dump and cares for his two small children. Chung ekes out a marginal existence, but does his best to be a good father all the same. The social worker chances across him on a street corner, and is informed that he "has trouble". The social worker and the reporter follow Chung to his shack. There they find one of Chung's children deathly ill, the other missing. Chow proves his versatility once again as he adopts the furtive eye movements and muttering speech of the untreated schizophrenic--completely unrecognizable as the suave sophisticate of films like John Woo's "The Killer".
The third mental paitent seems to be rehabilitated when he is introduced. Events in his life soon spiral out of control. His stability is threatened that soon affects everyone involved in his case.
Tragedy follows tragedy as the film concludes.Along the way it has shown the shortfall of social systems to care for the disenfranchised in an unflinching and compelling way unusual for HK cinema. This film shines a courageous, unwavering light on a difficult subject.