Movie review: Mad World offers compassionate look at mental illness

Shawn Yue gives a solid performance as a bipolar disorder sufferer in Mad World.
Shawn Yue gives a solid performance as a bipolar disorder sufferer in Mad World.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

REVIEW / DRAMA

MAD WORLD (PG13)

101 minutes/Opens tomorrow/4/5 stars

The story: After he is discharged from a mental health institution, Tung (Shawn Yue) moves in with his estranged truck-driver father (Eric Tsang). The former financial analyst tries to get a job and reaches out to his former fiancee, Jenny (Charmaine Fong). But the cloud of his mother's (Elaine Jin) accidental death and his decision to go off his medication prove to be a potent combination.

There is a fine tradition of socially conscious films from Hong Kong, such as Ann Hui's Boat People (1982), about Vietnamese refugees, and Cageman (1992), about the horrific living conditions of the territory's destitute.

That mantle has been passed to a new generation of film-makers, such as Jevons Au and Kiwi Chow (dystopian Hong Kong portrait Ten Years, 2015), as well as Wong Chun, whose compassionate debut feature Mad World takes on the topic of mental illness.

To his credit, this never turns into a preachy "issues" film.

He depicts the malady of intolerance and fear towards mental illness, but does not pretend there are easy remedies. Mad World is an indictment, but it is not a didactic prescription about what should or should not be done.

Instead, the work is grounded by solid performances.

Tsang is a guilt-ridden father trying to make amends and finds himself confronted with difficult questions as the sole caretaker of his son: What is the right thing to do? What is the loving thing to do?

Yue plays a bipolar disorder sufferer trying to make his way in a world in which empathy and kindness are so hard to come by - proving there is more to his range than the laidback Jimmy he has played in the hit romantic comedy series that began with Love In A Puff (2010).

Even when Tung strikes up an unlikely friendship with a precocious little boy who lives in the same tenement unit, that connection eventually becomes fraught.

Jin as Tung's pain-ridden, embittered and combative mother and Fong as the ex-fiancee struggling with forgiveness are portrayals that also ring true.

The deeply humanist film has been racking up accolades, including Golden Horse Awards for Best New Director and Best Supporting Actress for Jin; and Hong Kong Film Awards for Best New Director, Best Supporting Actress for Jin and Best Supporting Actor for Tsang.

It sold out three sessions at the Singapore Chinese Film Festival earlier this year and has now been picked up for general release.

The difference is that audiences will watch it in dubbed-over Mandarin, instead of the original Cantonese.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2017, with the headline 'Compassionate look at mental illness'. Print Edition | Subscribe