The Truth (1988)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-08-07
Making a good movie is never easy although there are some decisions made very early in the process that will make it more or less difficult. When Taylor Wong and Johnnie Mak decided that “The Truth” would be a courtroom drama it should have smoothed the way a bit for them. The characters, structure and even the sets are already defined. The conflict occurs in a specific place, the stakes are very high, the outcome isn't known by either the audience or the characters until the end and there is always a chance of a sudden twist or reversal just when it seems that justice has been done or denied. Among the memorable examples of the sub-genre are “Inherit the Wind”, “Witness for the Prosecution” and “Anatomy of a Murder.”

One way to mess up a good thing, which happens at almost every turn in “The Truth” is to make the main character, the defendant, obviously guilty. No matter how much we sympathize with Deannie Yip, a person for whom nothing has gone right for years, or how much we loathe Officer Wong Fat, played with reptilian accuracy by Wong Chi-Keung, we still see her kill him. She is not only guilty of murder but guilty with just about every aggravating circumstance we could imagine. There was premeditation, malice aforethought, lying in wait--all more or less obsolete terms but they define exactly what she did—and also fit with Andy Lau and Paul Chun in barristers wigs and gowns.

Another major problem is that Andy Lau plays an extremely incompetent lawyer. The attorney who is central to the drama can be a lot of things—Paul Newman was a drunk in “The Verdict”, Charles Laughton is so ill he can barely make it to court in “Witness for the Prosecution” and Jose Ferrer was a preening narcissist in “The Caine Mutiny”. All of them, however, were terrific advocates who gave their clients the best chance in the world to beat the rap against them. Helen, Andy Lau’s mother and client, would have done better with a first year law student representing her. Lau bribed a witness—a prostitute who had no reason to follow through with the deal after she got the money. He convinced Mildly a loan shark memorably overplayed by Shing Fui-On, to testify that Officer Wong Fat was a low-life who owed money to him and other underworld figures, but then lost control of him. Mildly wound up being led off the witness stand while demanding that the court pay the dead cops debts. So we have a guilty defendant and a bad lawyer, a very bad combination.

The courtroom scenes are preceded by an hour of dreadful melodrama as we see the downward spiral of Helen. As a middle-aged, drug addicted prostitute in a low rent brothel she isn’t far above the gutter to begin with. It was difficult to watch her being abused and all but tortured by almost everyone she encounters. Fat in particular is evil—he blackmails Nancy for money to pay the loan sharks but clearly enjoys wielding his power over her as much as he hunger for money. Unfortunately for Helen the law is solidly against private citizens killing even such loathsome people at Fat. If you decide to go ahead and pull the trigger you need a really good lawyer in your corner, which she didn’t.

The high point of “The Truth” was watching Shing Fui-On attempting to eat underdone fried eggs while holding court with his thugs in a restaurant. It is a mess of a movie with no characters to identify with, lazily plotted, overlong and almost always either tawdry or dull.

Not recommended.
Reviewer Score: 2