Mad World is not a fun movie, but it's an important one. It's a heartbreaking drama about a former investment banker suffering from bipolar disorder, who moves in with his estranged truck driver father so they can pick up the pieces of their lives together. It hits a whole catalogue of hot-button issues, including the social stigma of mental illness, poverty in Hong Kong, and the claustrophobia of living in a status-obsessed, upwardly mobile society that has no time for the poor.
Shaun Yue, one of Hong Kong's main stars who has appeared in Infernal Affairs and countless crime thrillers and romances, has documentary authenticity and directness. He plays the former investment banker who gave up his career to care for his bipolar mother until her death, only to find himself diagnosed with the same condition.
Eric Tsang, a veteran actor, producer, and director who has been in countless comedies and dramas since the '80s, plays his father — a truck driver who walked out on his wife when her mental illness became too much to take and now finds himself the only family and support his son has. Forced to live together in a cramped room in a tenement building, father and son have to find a new relationship through the guilt, pain, fear, loss and resentment. Memories of his mother and the circumstances leading to her death weigh heavily on him, as well as the need to make things up to his ex, and his attempts to get his life back on track start to unravel.
First-time director Wong Chun and screenwriter Florence Chan were inspired by a tragic newspaper report about a father and son, and did extensive research. The movie was shot in about two weeks on a budget of less than US$1 million. Everyone involved, including the stars, didn't think the movie was at all commercial, but wanted to do it. The movie ended up being a hit and won a stack of awards in Asia. Eric Tsang deserves the NYAFF 2017 Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award they presented to him at the festival yesterday evening.
The movie recalls the tenement building social dramas that Hong Kong used to make in the old days, and this is a return to that form, only even harsher and more downbeat. It's not a slick thriller, has no CGI effects or action set pieces — only a father and son running out of options as they face the social stigma and shame that mental illness brings. It taps into the tradition of movies like de Sica's Bicycle Thief and Ken Loach's I Am Daniel Blake.
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