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Chinese language cinema

Film review: Nessun Dorma – off-key thriller falls flat

Problematic plot twists and poor script make this an unsatisfying genre exercise from director Herman Yau

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 12:40pm

2/5 stars

When I interviewed Herman Yau Lai-to earlier this year, the prolific director bemoaned the fact that noirish thrillers such as Nessun Dorma are a dying breed in Hong Kong for want of intelligent screenwriters. I wish he’d recognise that his frequent collaborator, Erica Li Man, isn’t necessarily one, either.

For all its attempts at creating ominous atmosphere, Yau’s new film, co-scripted by Li from her own novel, is a twisty genre exercise that’s badly let down by its characters’ indecipherable motives.

Janice Man Wing-shan plays dog-rescue-charity founder Jasmine Tsang, on the brink of marrying wealthy businessman Vincent Lee (Gordon Lam Ka-tung) to feed her mother’s vanity. On a stormy night before that, however, the woman is abducted after visiting her true love Fong Mo-chit (Andy Hui Chi-on), a maths genius who suffered from autism as a child. Tsang is drugged, stripped naked and locked up for days – which, inexplicably, no one notices – and then freed the day before her wedding.

Convinced that she’s been raped, Tsang proceeds to marry Lee, only to reveal her trauma afterwards. When her sleazy new husband – the film makes sure we see his many assignations – feels insulted and promises to make her life hell, Tsang is contacted by her mystery captor with a plan to punish Lee.

So what’s Fong, the story’s voice-over narrator, doing in all this? And did I mention Lee’s driver and Tsang’s building security guard, who both behave too creepily to even qualify as red herrings?

Ultimately, viewers of this convoluted attempt at a psychological thriller are bound to find its revelations banal and irrelevant. Named after the aria from Puccini’s Turandot, and even incorporating some of its dramatic ideas into the flashback-heavy proceedings, Nessun Dorma is just not as clever as it thinks.

This pedestrian piece of pulp entertainment only makes All of a Sudden – Yau’s dark, exploitative and entertaining thriller from 1996 – look like a genuine classic.

Nessun Dorma opens on October 27

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