I have yet to get to see Soi Cheang’s recent crime thriller, Limbo. Notably though, the film continues to garner major reception even as Cheang’s latest rolls out with a cast led by Lokman Yeung and award-winning actor and NYAFF laureate Gordon Lam in Mad Fate.
Written by Melvin Li and Yau Nai-Hoi, the film centers on a fortune teller called “The Master” (Lam). He leads a pretty frenzied life as he tries to help clients prevent misfortune, using as many tools as he can whether its through reading signs, maps and symbols and determining someone’s feng shui.
His latest efforts have since turned to Siu Tung (Yeung), a food deliveryman with a penchant for murderous intent, whose unquenched need for violence has put him on a trajectory to imprisonment – something he wants to avoid. In lieu of all this, however, lies the presence of a sadistic serial killer (Peter Chan) whose bloody and brutal crimes continue to haunt the neighboring prostitutes.
As The Master struggles to tweak Siu’s fate, he also finds himself fighting his own battle with insanity through a lucky charm. Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time and probability from there, as the killer’s next moves and that of a dauntless veteran detective (Berg Ng) could very well force The Master to confront the inevitable.
Mad Fate thrives on its own maddening delivery at times. In a world full of characters led by several who are guided by a set of psychological afflictions, the film’s design mirrors itself off pretty neatly in that effort. It’s a version of Hong Kong where it rains quite a bit and displays crazy thunder and lightning shows, and even when the sun is out, the clouds are just as cuckoo.
Much of this imagery lends to the notion that the film is told from the mental state (and I’m trying to apply this term as carefully as possible) of our characters. We see this with The Master whose first case in the movie sees him written off by a woman who firstly sought to him to try and prevent her own doom, only to get impatient and leave on the night of their intended ritual. It’s one of several building blocks leading up to the meeting between The Master and a recalcitrant Siu who would rather go get his fix sniffing day-old blood from a newly-minted crime scene.
The film is keen to flash back to the childhoods of our main character to highlight the inflection points that made them who they are. How it all contributes to their development remains to be seen as we follow The Master and a beleagured Siu on their odd-couple quest of introspection, often met with tons of lows and only a few highs. Thickening the plot even further at this juncture is when the killer moves back in to obtain his tools from a secret location only to be impeded. By then, you can gather as much that all three characters are going to have a major climatic moment, but it’s not what you would expect. This isn’t exactly Killers by The Mo’ Brothers.
Indeed, the film sticks to its guns and remains fervently on edge as The Master tries another crapshoot ritual, only to potentially fail and possibly lose his mind. The film’s lensing provides enough that you sort of believe what you’re seeing, even if the elements of what you see are astral and supernatural. Another way to read this is to consider what kind of research psychologists might elude to in terms of this study. Either way, the final moments of the film do manage to bring some resolve and maybe a little clarity, although not too much on the latter.
Mad Fate is a noir psychological thriller dressed in dark fantasy at times, and seething with gore and chilling visuals that take you along for a harrowing ride with menacing, mostly unhinged minds. Its puzzling end resigns to the open-ended question of just what it all means and leaves you guessing what kind of role “fate” plays on real-world terms, unless you’re already settled. As a titilating genre thriller, Mad Fate gives you what you pay for…except for maybe CG animals depending on how you feel about that sort of thing.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.