Movie Review: Guilt By Design (催眠·裁决)

Hong Kong actor Nick Cheung Ka-Fai/張家輝 (BODIES AT REST; the FROM VEGAS TO MACAU trilogy) is a busy guy. His fourth film to hit the cinemas this year, GUILT BY DESIGN, has just arrived. Many will wonder after seeing this film, though, if perhaps he needs to be a little more selective in choosing his roles.

In GUILT BY DESIGN, Cheung plays Hui, a widowed father of a young girl. He’s also a well-known psychologist who has a reputation of being able to hypnotise anyone anywhere in a matter of seconds. He’s just been appointed to be on a jury in a high-profile case of a young woman who was charged with murdering her uncle in suspicious circumstances allegedly to inherit his share, and control, of the family business. As the jury is about to become sequestered in order to reach a verdict, Hui receives a phone call from corrupt cop Tang Siu-Keung (Cheung Siu-Fai/張兆輝, Z STORM), who informs him that his daughter has been kidnapped. If Hui doesn’t hypnotise the majority of his fellow jurors into finding the woman guilty, Tang’s people will kill the girl. With the help of his brother-in-law, former PLA soldier Yang Kai (Hans Zhang Han/張翰, WOLF WARRIOR 2), Hui has to figure out a way to rescue his daughter and ensure that his peers vote their conscience, all under Tang’s watchful gaze through a series of hidden cameras that he set up all over the courthouse.

First time writer-directors Kenneth Lai Siu-Kwan/黎兆鈞, Lau Wing-Tai/劉永泰, Paul Sze Pak-Lam/施柏林 would have done well to have watched courtroom dramas like director Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film, 12 ANGRY MEN, before shooting GUILT BY DESIGN. Their film is not only plagued by weak dialogue, its basic premise is faulty. One would certainly think that someone who can hypnotise a person using a microwave oven timer would be permanently disqualified from jury duty. To make the story even more unbelievable, we learn early on that Cheung has had a prior relationship with one of the other jurors. Again, one of them should have been disqualified for that reason. Later on, we learn that another juror has committed insider trading while a fourth juror – out of the seven – was the plaintiff in a civil suit a few years earlier where this case’s defence lawyer was the defence lawyer in her lawsuit. Could she be biased? Uh, yeah!

But implying that the rule of law in Hong Kong is a farce was not enough for these young filmmakers. They double down on their love of the motherland – and its ability to make or break careers – by conveniently making the story’s hero a patriotic ex-Chinese soldier. Sorry, boys. Your movie may end up being a hit up north but it will not go down well here. It’s complete garbage.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, November 8th, 8:30 am HK time!

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