Heaven aims high, but falls short

Karena Lam is competent in her role as Michelle, who sues a pastor for sexual harassment.
Karena Lam is competent in her role as Michelle, who sues a pastor for sexual harassment.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

REVIEW / DRAMA

HEAVEN IN THE DARK (M18)

99 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars

The Story: Michelle (Karena Lam) works for Marco (Jacky Cheung) and also attends the church where he is a pastor. After they share a passionate kiss, she sues him for sexual harassment and he loses everything. Five years later, they meet again. Can they both find closure? Adapted from the original play The French Kiss (2005) by Candace Chong.

 

Fourteen years ago, Karena Lam played a high-school student who seduced her midlife-crisis-ridden teacher, Jacky Cheung, in the acclaimed drama July Rhapsody (2002). Here, they are once again sucked into a morass of sexual tension and moral ambiguity.

Heaven initially offers a classic he-said-she-said narrative. Marco is bewildered at what happened in the aftermath of the kiss and is convinced that he did nothing wrong. Michelle seems to have moved on and is a wife and mother when they meet again, but she is still hurt and angry and continues to play the aggrieved party.

First-time feature director Steve Yuen, incidentally Lam's husband, stacks the cards against Marco. He is a man of the world juggling dual identities as a pastor and as a go-getter in what appears to be a non-governmental organisation, while she is a shy and sheltered woman who gradually blooms at work and in church.

Ultimately, we are given a definitive version of what happened between Marco and Michelle. Unfortunately, this decision robs the film of its tension. Worse, the revelation is far from satisfactory.

Plays such as Oleanna (1992) and Doubt, A Parable (2004) had explored he-said-she-said scenarios more successfully in part because audiences are left to wrestle with what might or might not have happened. The fact that there is no neat conclusion points to the slippery nature of truth.

Cheung and Lam were nominated for acting prizes at the recent Hong Kong Film Awards, but did not win. His portrayal of Marco tends towards exaggeration. While Lam is perfectly competent as the emotional Michelle, it is also a performance that lingers on the surface, probably because of the script.

Heaven is an over-ambitious work that aims high, but is brought low by its floundering end.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Heaven aims high, but falls short'. Print Edition | Subscribe