Where a Good Man Goes (1999)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2010-09-27
Lau Ching-Wan is Michael a psychopath just released from prison. Whenever he confronts something he doesn't understand, his plans are thwarted or he just feels bad he reacts by punching someone or breaking something. He is a thoroughly repulsive person who would improve the world by leaving it. But since this movie takes place in To-land, that slightly twisted part of the Hong Kong or Macau real estate (and psyche) that is populated by characters created by Johnny To he not only lives to the end of the movie but has a Damascus Road conversion from a vicious criminal to a Gandhi-like adherent of non-violence.

Johnny To tries to create a universe in which Michael, while bad, is the victim of someone even worse--a corrupt police sergeant played with leering loathsomeness by Lam Suet, a role he is very comfortable with. Ruby Wong is perfect as the ruefully sexy widow who owns a bankrupt inn and who puts up with too much from Michael.

We are taken to a lot of familiar places in To-land: Triad meetings late at night in closed restaurants; the backrooms of karaoke clubs full of mainland hookers; deserted, neon-drenched streets. It begins when Michael is thrown out of a cab in front of the International Inn and he staggers inside after an affray with the cab driver and two of his fellow drivers. If the driver had put up with Michael's antics for another minute or had tired of them a minute before he never would have met Ruby Wong's character but in this existentially absurd world that turns on chance and happenstance, there he is.

During the first couple of hours of his stay Michael smashes a phone when he can't reach a number--Macau had changed the phone numbering system while he was in prison--wakes up half the residents on his floor looking for cigarettes, insists on being served a meal (the inn has no restaurant), insults the innkeeper and leaves a trail of bloody tissues behind him wherever he goes. Things get steadily worse from there. The next day he tries to convince the Inn's only employee, a hard working young woman from Szechuan province that she should improve her life by quitting and working as a whore.

He is framed, publicly humiliated and arrested by the crooked cop. Ruby Wong's innkeeper goes to the jail with his clothes--Michael's humiliation included being paraded in front of a crowd in hand cuffs and leg irons, clad only in his jockey shorts--one hopes he sent a prayer thanking his mother for making him always wear clean underwear when he was young. She is the alibi witness for the crime that he is accused of and refuses to change her story even when the cops threaten her. This bad guy has, as they often do in movies, fallen into the hands of a very righteous woman.

Which doesn't change his behavior in the least. The next day he all but kidnaps her son--grabs the boy and runs to the hotel's van, refusing to release him and almost running over Ruby's character when she jumps in front of the vehicle. She manages to get into it and they drive off with Michael telling her how terrible a mother she is. Things calm down enough for Michael to take them on a tour of some of his old haunts including walking past a prison that was his last home, pointing out the walls he had painted while incarcerated.

Michael is truly a bad person. Even though he now spends his free time patching the roof of the inn and doing other necessary jobs he is still a maniacal brute whose mere presence is dangerous which, if we weren't convinced already, is made clear when his sexual assault of the innkeeper is stopped just short of rape when her son bangs on the door. If given a choice between him and the corrupt cop the cop would win every time since with him one would know how he would act. While he would be an evil person at least he would be predictable--one could understand and foresee his depravity. So the movie doesn't really work as a story of how a flawed man experiences contrition, conversion and redemption because of a good woman.

Lau Ching-Wan is at his demented best here making it impossible to empathize with him as a felon who has served his sentence. All his problems--other his uncontrollable rage and deeply held beliefs that everything that happens to him is the fault of someone else--involve money that he has left with crooks or with people that have reason to hate him. The underlings in his old gang don't have the million dollars he left with them and the two million that his girlfriend was holding is long gone. We find out that the girlfriend was with him for five years before his last stretch in prison and that he beat her up regularly so only Michael is surprised when she has spent the money to buy a currency exchange and gotten married while he was locked up. The gang members are venal thugs who found they could function without Michael and no longer fear him.

As mentioned, Lau Ching-Wan is terrific in this role, completely credible as a psycho who rules those around him through fear. Ruby Wong is just as good although her performance is a bit muted--which is typical for this artist and most likely part of the artistic tools she brings to a role. Her character would need untold reserves of heart as a widow trying to raise a son and run a faltering hotel almost without help, beset with unsympathetic bankers and surrounded by corrupt cops. Once Michael is dumped into the life she would need the four virtues of the Buddha to carry on so a sense of reserve, of energy deferred, makes sense.