By Lim Yian Lu
Rating: NC16 (Some violence)
Length: 109 minutes
Director: Yuen Kim-wai
Cast: Anthony Wong, Karena Lam, Carlos Chan, Kathy Yuen
Based on the 1997 Japanese novel titled The Black House — also adapted into a Japanese film in 1999 and a Korean movie in 2007 — by mystery writer Yusuke Kishi, Legally Declared Dead is the story of a righteous and kind-hearted insurance agent Yip Wing-shun (Carlos Chan).
One day, he received a mystery call from a guy asking about their company’s compensation for death by suicide. Subsequently, he was requested to visit a client named Chu Chung-tak (Anthony Wong) at his home. Wing-shun found himself at a dark and dilapidated house in the countryside, and was asked to enter Chung-tak’s stepson’s room.
To his horror, he found the boy hanging by his neck, while the seemingly senile Chung-tak, who was behind him, repeatedly and creepily shouted, “Son, what are you doing?!” As Chung-tak did not even take a look at his son, Wing-shun became suspicious of the supposed suicide.
Following that, Chung-tak began to harass Wing-shun at his office for the insurance payout. Wing-shun was convinced Chung-tak is a psychopathic murderer whose next target is his wife, Shum Chi-ling (Karena Lam). However, as Wing-shun dives deeper, danger began lurking around him and the people around him, including his girlfriend (Kathy Yuen).
Legally Declared Dead features exceptional performances from veteran actor Anthony Wong and Golden Horse award winner Karena Lam, who is also the wife of the director Yuen Kim-wai. Wong portrays a dark and creepy character, while Lam acts as the visually impaired wife of Chung-tak. Perhaps, their acting is the only selling point of the whole movie.
The plot, on the other hand, falls terribly short, especially the non-conclusive ending. This adaptation did not bring out a truly horrifying experience of the novel it was based on — whether it is the psychological aspect or the grisly visuals. It could have been better if more insights to the psychopath’s thoughts and actions were revealed, or more daring and gory scenes were used. The ending could also explain more about what happened to Wing-shun and Chung-tak.
A background story was also given to Wing-shun but it did not help build the character. There was also supposed to be a contrast in the morality of Wing-shun as the story progresses. Yet, it felt like a half-hearted effort and the change was not well-developed.
Although it was based on the Japanese novel of acclaimed mystery writer Yusuke Kishi, Legally Declared Dead did not live up to the expectations. Its tagline epitomises the movie though: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Release date: 20 August 2020 (Singapore)