Film review: The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful – Kara Wai dazzles as scheming matriarch

Best-picture winner at recent Golden Horse Awards stands out for the performances of its three actresses – Wai as hard-hearted matriarch and shady syndicate leader, and Wu Ke-xi and the teenaged Vicky Chen as her daughters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 6:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 6:11pm

3.5/5 stars

As career renaissances go, the purple patch former martial arts star Kara Wai Ying-hung is currently enjoying must be up there with the most impressive in Hong Kong cinema history. After collecting her third Hong Kong Film Award for best actress in April for her role in the dementia drama Happiness , Wai was named best actress at last month’s Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan for her devious role in The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful.

Playing Madame Tang, the leader of a shady syndicate profiting from illegal land speculation schemes and the hard-hearted matriarch of a powerful family of three, 57-year-old Wai smirks her way through the film, a labyrinthine tale of high-level corruption set in Taiwan that marks a major change of pace for writer-director Yang Ya-che (Orz Boyz, GF*BF).

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Bearing the brunt of Tang’s ambition is her adult daughter Tang Ning (Wu Ke-xi, The Road to Mandalay ), who has been so damaged by her mother’s immoral dealings that she must keep numbing herself with sex, drugs and alcohol. Rounding out the family is Tang Chen (Vicky Chen Wen-chi, 14, who won best supporting actress at the Golden Horse Awards), a quiet observer holding in a reservoir of conflicted emotions.

When the family of one of Madame Tang’s government friends dies a gruesome death, leaving a teenage daughter (Wen Chen-ling) – perhaps Chen’s only friend – on life support, an inquest begins in the circle of corrupt officials and business partners around Tang, especially as a huge sum of money has gone missing in the process. As the adults proceed with more threats and back-stabbing, young Chen emerges as the real focus of the film.

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But the less said about the story the better; film-goers with sufficient patience will be able to solve its mystery. The narrative is fragmented, key scenes are replayed from different characters’ perspectives, and there are some off-putting Brechtian sequences featuring traditional Taiwanese musicians who offer commentaries from an ominous-looking TV studio that appears to exist in a different reality.

Yang’s highly stylised melodrama is ultimately more memorable for the chilling performances of its trio of actresses than for its story, which turns into a spectacle of family dysfunction and moral depravity. Wai, so effortlessly charismatic in action thriller Mrs K , isn’t required to dig too deep into her acting repertoire, Chen emerges as a future star of Taiwanese cinema, while Wu’s contribution shouldn’t be underrated.

The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful opens on December 7

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