Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful, The (2017)

Review #1,559

Director:  Yang Ya-che
Cast:  Kara Wai, Ke-Xi Wu, Vicky Chen
Plot:  Madame Tang colludes and mediates between the government and the private businesses for the benefits of her all-female family.  One case does not go according to plan, and an entire family close to Madame Tang falls victim to a gruesome murder. 

Genre:  Drama / Mystery
Awards:  Won 3 Golden Horses - Best Feature Film, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress.  Nom. for 4 Golden Horses - Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup & Costume Design
Runtime:  112 mins
Rating:  M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes
International Sales:  MandarinVision

The title is, of course, a structural play on the name of the famous Spaghetti Western—The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), and intended to be revealing of the personalities of the three main characters that adorn the picture, as played by Kara Wai (Happiness, 2016), Wu Ke-Xi (The Road to Mandalay, 2016) and Vicky Chen (Angels Wear White, 2017) in superb performances.  The intriguing thing about the film is that the personalities of the trio are fluid and not categorical.  One could be bold, corrupt and/or beautiful at different times and in different contexts.  As such, it would be of scant value to the viewer if he or she has any preconceived notion of who’s who in this dramatic setup.  

Writer-director Yang Ya-che (Girlfriend Boyfriend, 2012) has fashioned an old-school mystery-thriller that pits the three individuals against each other, or sometimes, uniting the three into one entity in a collective front where the notion of family is played against outer forces of politics, greed and vengeance.  Either way, it is quite nicely done, and generally an interesting film that should whet the appetite of moviegoers in the mood for a dark, twisted Chinese tale.

The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful is elegantly-shot and deliberate in its visual composition, conjuring up a disquieting tone as the plotting centers on the aforesaid characters (the Tangs), an upper-class family that meddles with the activities of the authorities and private businesses.  The word ‘meddle’ may suggest that the Tangs are inviting trouble when there is none, though the reality is that they are protecting their own interests as well as the interests of others, insofar as things remain status quo and that the best laid plans aren’t scuppered.  

Things, of course, will go wrong, and sparks will fly.  However, Yang’s film is sometimes too convoluted, trying to reveal one thing too many, or switching narrative gears too abruptly.  Thus, the storytelling is occasionally at odds with the tension it is trying to build.  The thin veil of staged comic artificiality—that of two seniors narrating the movie’s story and playing music accompaniment for a television programme on strange, unsolved cases of crime—also unwittingly distracts audiences from the ‘felt’ experience of being vicariously part of the story.   Ultimately, all these are merely narrative techniques in a decently-mounted cinematic show-and-tell that won Best Feature Film at the Golden Horse Awards. 

Verdict:  This Golden Horse Best Feature winner is an elegantly-shot mystery-thriller with dark secrets, though the convoluted plotting is sometimes at odds with the tension it is trying to build.




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