Legally Declared Dead (2019)
Director: Wai Yuen Kim
Cast: Carlos Chan, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Karena Lam, Kathy Yuen
Based on Japanese novel Black House by Yusuke Kishi, Legally Declared Dead is 2019 Hong Kong psychological thriller that centers its story at an early point of understanding a quote: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It takes the angle of an insurance broker Yip (Carlos Chan) who is assigned a client that asks him to discuss his policy at his home but ends up witnessing his son hanging from the ceiling and the case ends up being deemed a suicide and his parents get the insurance money. Struggling between hallucinations from PTSD and believing that the father Tak killed his own son with the scheme to get the insurance money for his own purposes, he goes onto his own investigation before Tak gets to his wife Ling who also has a huge insurance policy.
Legally Declared Dead is a good premise. While I’ve never read the source material, there is something about following a normal person that finds this newfound desire to seek out the truth relentlessly despite the apparent abnormal personality from Tak and Ling. The story is at its most gripping when its looking watching Yip pursue this family’s past from where the couple met and piecing together Tak and Ling’s story. There’s a great execution element done where the past blends into the present with each shot as it shares the location. Its a very cool maneuver to keep the scene flowing smoothly. However, the movie does have a secondary focus on Yip’s mental state falling apart as he starts seeing nightmare scenes like the pet praying mantis giant and attacking him and his girlfriend for example. The CGI is rather lacking for the most part and doesn’t quite flow as well. Its meant to be creepy and yet it seems to not quite hit the mark especially as its meant to build up on Yip’s character while bringing up a key point of the dangers of praying mantis female and male together.
There is no doubt that where this movie excels is the performance of Tak and Ling by Anthony Chau-Sang Wong and Karena Lam. Its fairly early that there is something wrong with Tak and the story gives cues of different probably reasons for his abnormal behavior. Anthony Wong embraces this role so well especially as its such a helpless character by the end that creates a lot of unsettling moments throughout the film using actions and how he interacts with other people and then with Ling being a key point. Karena Lam delivers a surprising role as Ling. She plays a woman who has a visual disability that appears like she has settled for Tak for whatever reason that soon becomes apparent as we follow their side of the story that she has a manipulative character. Tak and Ling are characters with depth and twists. Its unsettling and psychological. Its a little sad that they are paired up with Carlos Chan who does an alright job as Yip but in comparison, his character lacks a lot more substance and feels fairly one-dimensional. Luckily, they also have a great supporting cast with Stephen Au, Kai Chi Liu and Catherine Chau.
Packed with a good premise and some outstanding powerhouse performances from Wong and Lam, Legally Declared Dead is relatively successful as a horror/psychological thriller. Its execution and pacing does build tension very well. It gives both side of the story and as each characters mindset and grand scheme comes to light one step at a time, it becomes more and more unsettling. Not to mention, the cinematography plays a big part using parallels to show the past and the truth of a story being told while also playing with light and dark scenes and the whole concept of good and bad people being respectively weak and power. There are a few decent use of psychological elements especially as Yip’s girlfriend plays the role of a team that looks into criminal behavior. Its a bit of a convenient setup but for the most part, Legally Declared Dead does fit together all its elements well enough to be gripping and engaging.