This movie is so delightfully dramatic. It is relentless in its attempt to make you feel some emotion or other. I found myself wishing it would perk up just a little, instead of being MacBeth all over the place.
Now, for my interpretation of the plot. It's a fairly simple one. Sang has a tendency to gamble, but no talent for it. Once he becomes so entangled in debt he can't get out by normal means, he convinces his wife May to embezzle funds from her boss. That is the first thing we see in the movie--May attempting to match her boss's signature. Even this early in the film, you can cut the drama with a knife. May signs the name over and over again, beads of sweat appearing on her forehead. A close-up of the clock is shown.
She continues writing his name. Suddenly, a woman bursts in, saying "I saw everything!" Fortunately, she's referring to another incident, but May very nearly has a massive coronary. At this point the drama is slightly deflated by the incomprehensible subtitles. The woman, a friend and coworker of May's, is referring to something that recently happened--their boss came on to another coworker, and was shot down. The friend is greatly amused, saying the boss loves to "shake" but won't get anywhere. She then, according to the subtitles, says something about kissing the wax lips. I can't even begin to guess at what she is actually saying. I am sure it was a lovely speech and all, but I didn't get a word of it. Not one word.
At any rate, May succeeds in forging the signature, and becomes even more nerve-wracked during her visit to the bank. She is told to wait (as frequently happens when banking) and she's afraid that she's been discovered. Actually, it's just unusual to withdraw such a large amount of money all at once. May doesn't think of that, apparently. As it happens, the banker has mistaken her for someone else, so he gives her the go-ahead. By this time I was afraid May wasn't going to make it. She doesn't have the makings of a criminal mind. She is obviously doing something she shouldn't be--the look on her face is evidence of that. Finally when she gets outside and delivers the money to the good-for-nothing Sang, she breaks down and admits she's terrified. Well, who knew?
Sang promptly takes the money to his debtor, but there's no way he can reimburse May's company for it in the time it takes for their bank statement to arrive. If the money doesn't show up, May will be in serious trouble. (May would be in trouble. Not Sang. I wonder if he thought about that? Also--wouldn't May's company see a humongous withdrawal, followed by an equally humongous deposit? Wouldn't they wonder about that?) At any rate, they decide to visit Sang's "rich" uncle to ask for some money. Surprisingly, the rich uncle asks them for money--he's looking for people to invest in his farm. Sang is depressed by this point, and further angered by his uncle. On the ferry ride home, Sang gets a little tipsy and hangs his legs off the end of the boat. May is horribly seasick, but worried about Sang, so she wobbles to him and asks him to come back with her. In trying to help him, May falls off the boat into the ocean. Sang catches her arm and holds on to her while she begs him not to let go. During this short moment, it occurs to Sang that maybe May is the cause of his problems. She stole the money, so it could be interpreted as her fault. Furthermore, she serves as a reminder to him what a failure he is. It would be nice to eliminate that reminder. So, thinking of his best interests, he lets go and she sinks into the water.
That's the first section of the movie described as well as I could manage. Giving away the rest of the movie would count as a spoiler, so I won't do that. (Has anyone noticed that on the back of these Hong Kong movies the little description tells you EVERYTHING? The whole plot is right there, in garbled English. No stone is left unturned. I guess they're afraid we won't figure out.) Basically, Sang races up the corporate ladder without May holding him back with those dratted morals of hers. He meets another woman that he fancies very much--she's filthy rich, and he could get used to that. He has lost all feeling for anything connected to his "former" life. His son is treated horribly--he is left alone for lengthy periods of time, he has to fend for himself where food is concerned, and Sang beats him frequently. One night, however, a mysterious "lady in black" appears (the movie shows us who she is, but no one is the movie knows until later). She can't speak, but she seems to care very much for the little boy. When he tries to prepare his own dinner and screws up, she obviously feels for him and she wishes she could help him. She can't be seen, because her face is disfigured. (I never did figure out why.) As the rest of the movie progresses, the Lady in Black goes through a transformation to become her old self again, and this time she's mad. The somewhat violence sequence towards the end of the movie is her attempt at revenge.
All in all, a nice little Hong Kong melodrama, with a great performance by Brigitte Lin. No big surprise there, though.