Goddess of Mercy (2003)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-04-14
“Goddess of Mercy” is Ann Hui’s well made and enthralling tale of An Xin, a young woman police officer and men in her life. She is on the front lines of the suppression of the drug trade in a semi-rural province of the PRC. While there she has an affair with an attractive, wealthy man even though she is engaged to and in love with a journalist who lives an eight hour train ride away. The movie begins in the middle of the story with An Xin and her son living in Beijing. She works as a maid in a Tae Kwon Do gym and attracts the lustful attention of Yang Rui who joins the gym and gets beaten up almost daily in order to be close to her. Yang Rui has fallen in love with An Xin literally at first sight and does his best to pick her up, offering dinner dates, concert tickets, rides home when in the pouring rain (she rides a bicycle) and essentially stalks her. He has a very strange job, one that isn’t really explained but which involves sleeping with his very attractive boss and being told by her that he shouldn’t ever turn his cell phone off without telling her. She has a detective follow Yang Rui and An Xin and shows him not only the “gotcha” pictures of the two of them together but also pictures of her young son.

Shocked, jobless and angry, he sees An Xin, her son and a man who he assumes to be her husband leaving her apartment. When he confronts her she tells him her husband is dead and the man she was with is an old friend who is attached to her son. He winds up selling his car to pay for an operation for the son. What seems to be a story about a love blinded guy taken advantage of by a sharp woman turns into a domestic tale of woe. A bit later she says to him, according to the subtitles “I forgot to tell you—I am a police officer”. This is after he is arrested for taking a bribe from a property developer while with his former employer/girlfriend, a bribe she not only knew about but encouraged him to keep. A lawyer who is retained by An Xin’s former commander, Captain Pan, deals with the charges and gets him released after a few months in jail.

Captain Pan plays an important role throughout the movie—he is An Xin’s superior officer and confidant, a voice of reason that she generally ignores and the wise old man who helps her and some of the other impetuous young cops deal with the long war they are waging against the drug lords. Eliminating cross-border drug trafficking in that part of China is very serious business, with paramilitary operations and heavy weapons used regularly and both sides deploying automatic weapons and explosives. No one can be trusted; the police must be on their guard constantly against infiltration and many of them are marked for death. It is within this environment that Officer An Xin an exemplary police officer and leader, enters into an inappropriate relationship. Nothing good can come of it and nothing does.

The way that “Goddess of Mercy” ends is extremely ambiguous. It is cathartic and heart-rending, with Vicky Zhao Wei holding the audience in the palm of her hand as the half-crazed avenger, fueled by the need for revenge but heartbroken over the fate of those she loves the most. She is no longer Quan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy whose amulet she wears on a chain around her neck. Suen Hoi-Ying as Captain Pan lights up the screen when he realizes that the time for calm counsel is over and deadly action is necessary. Nicholas Tse’s character, while important in the ending, simply has to hit his mark and say his lines, which he does.

However, when we think back to the way “Goddess of Mercy” started with An Xin in Beijing with her son it make us question everything that happens in the last, exhilarating twenty minutes. If Captain Pan saw this, and An did that and Mao Jie (Nicholas Tse) did something else and if it is all a flashback (which it must be) then how can....

This is not, as if often the case, simply a matter of sloppy storytelling. Ann Hui and Ivy Ho created a multi-dimensional story within the structure of an exciting cops and robbers tale.

Reviewer Score: 8