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Split Second Murders

Split Second Murders     Split Second Murders

(left) 6 Wing gets on the phone, and (right) Kay Tse and Andy Hui at dinner in Split Second Murders.



Year: 2009  
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Writer: Erica Li Man
Cast: Kay Tse, 6 Wing, C. Kwan, Andy Hui Chi-On, Stephanie Cheng Yung, Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, William Chan Wai-Ting, Pakho Chau Pak-Ho, Wylie Chiu, Charmaine Fong Ho-Man, Siu Fei, Bonnie Xian, Jin Au-Yeung, Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Candy Lo Hau-Yam, Crystal Tin Yui-Lei, Deep Ng Ho-Hong, Wilfred Lau Ho-Lung, Vincy Chan Wing-Yee, Chet Lam Yat-Fung, Carlos Chan Ka-Lok, Mak Ling-Ling, Yumi Wan, Melody Chan, Ivy Choi, Carol Yeung Tsz-Yiu
The Skinny: Split Second Murders won't impress cineastes looking for "the next big thing", but the local focus, deft direction and dark humor make this an unexpectedly fun time. Once again Herman Yau takes a low budget and dubious resources and produces something surprisingly worthwhile.
by Kozo:

Herman Yau continues his solid filmmaking streak with the surprising low-budget thriller-comedy Split Second Murders. Novelist and screenwriter Erica Li (Stephen Chow's King of Comedy, among others) penned the story, a largely unremarkable tale about life changing decisions, unexpected consequences, and what happens when a bunch of people get way too angry. The film stumbles when trying to establish meaning, but it's Yau's expert, straight-faced direction that sells the jokes and situations, and helps to make the inexperienced idol cast into something resembling a practiced ensemble. Lives won't change, but Split Second Murders is far better than one would expect.

6 Wing, the taller member of goofy hip-hop group FAMA, stars as Luk, a struggling comic book artist who embarks on a hellish day of happenstance. In the morning he wakes up to discover that his girlfriend Julia (Charmaine Fong) has left him, and the rest of the day isn't much better. While attempting to land a job with a questionable triad-owned publishing firm, Luk encounters lots of conflict, usually involving people who get pissed at one another before resorting to deadly violence. The conflicts range from small and direct (e.g., two men fighting in a restaurant, or a case of road rage) to large and ironic (a triad gang conflict seems defused before literally flaming up). Apparently, luck does not seem to be with Luk today.

Chance is not really to blame; the film's chintzy CGI opening introduces an angel of death (singer-songwriter Chet Lam) who muses why so many people are due for an untimely end that day. The explanation is not really given, but presumably it's tied into Luk's insensitivity towards Julia, plus his willingness to use death as a way to sell his comic book. There seems to be a price to pay for Luk's cavalier attitude, and the apparent lesson of the film edges towards cheesy if not Pollyannaish. Ultimately, Luk forges a redemptive connection with a pretty club girl (buxom babe of the moment Chrissie Chau) and begins to see the error of his ways, but besides the nominal nods to karma and fate, nothing here registers as inspired or really compelling.

So if all the above is not that great, then what's there to like? Well, Herman Yau mainly, plus the darkly funny scenes of people getting pissed off. Yau has a way with satiric comedy; he presents the escalating anger of his characters absurdly yet intelligently, letting audiences figure out what's funny instead of spoon feeding them. Many of the jokes require a working knowledge of Hong Kong, with local headlines and pop culture getting frequent nods. The "corrosive liquids dumped onto the street" crime epidemic (also referenced in Trick or Cheat) makes an appearance here, plus there's a reference to the ever-popular Edison Chen scandal and even the work of martial arts novelist Jin Yong. Most of all, Yau seems to be making fun of average people - particularly their greed, duplicity, materialism and self-interest - and he does it in a way that's funny and frequently surprising.

Yau also gets the most from his cast. The film has some veteran presences like Andy Hui, Candy Lo and Maggie Siu, but the actors are mostly young idols and singers who aren't known for their thespian abilities. Some of them have logged previous, unimpressive screen appearances, and Yau pulls off a minor feat by putting each actor to effective use here. There are the occasional missteps, but even the annoying performances (like Stephanie Cheng's overly cutesy newlywed) seem to serve a purpose. Adding an extra layer, some of the cast skewer their own tabloid personas, but not in a manner that takes over the picture. Ultimately the characters they play are exaggerated yet recognizable people, and the absurd or even extreme fates they meet manage to have an impact.

Like Herman Yau's Troublesome Night films or his more low-key works (e.g., Walk In or The First 7th Night), Split Second Murders is successful largely because of its unassuming nature. Erica Li's screenplay does attempt some meaning, but the film doesn't hang itself on some ultimate wisdom or payoff, and instead finds value in its smaller details. Split Second Murders works best for its amusing vignettes and the small surprises it offers, be they funny pop culture references, random stabs at humor or even sudden moments of violence. The film is a hard sell to audiences without an investment in Hong Kong culture, as its local focus is definitely much more served than its commercial genre, cinematic style or wow factor. That's okay, as pandering to mass audiences has never been Herman Yau's thing. If Yau continues to make films like he has recently, then Hong Kong Cinema and its unique identity should be properly represented for a while. (Kozo 2009)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image credit: BIG Pictures Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen