Legally Declared Dead (making its North American premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival) has a plot that seems more suited to television than the big screen. Yip Wing-shun is an insurance salesman who receives a call asking about the company’s payout policy regarding suicide. Predictably, a suicide soon follows and the young salesman is drawn into a dark mystery.
A pair of performances carry the movie. Anthony Wong does a spectacular job as Chu Chung-tak. The character could easily have fallen into the trap of overacting. Initially, that is exactly what seems to be the case. Instead, Wong plays his part with a frightening grace that improves Legally Declared Dead.
Karena Lam steals scenes as Chu’s visually impaired wife. She starts off as quiet and reserved. The audience almost pities her. Before long, it becomes clear there is much more to her than she first revealed.
The story is where Legally Declared Dead falters. The premise may be based in the noir stories of the early twentieth century, but it never reaches that level of detail. The characters are given little backstory. There is a failed attempt with Yip, but otherwise it is a constant case of what you see is what you get. It is very difficult for the audience to get behind anyone in Legally Declared Dead.
The more interesting parts of the story are never visited as much as they should. Legally Declared Dead has the potential to be a very good thriller based in psychology. Director Yuen Kim-Wai never explores this aspect too deeply. The movie is content to go with the more visceral scares.
There is also the movie’s tendency to never resolve major issues. There is nothing wrong with a story choosing to leave its audience with unanswered questions. In the case of Legally Declared Dead, it is as if the mysteries are just dropped. This does not make the story more talkable; it is just frustrating.
Legally Declared Dead has all the ingredients for a great psychological thriller. The premise is familiar, but is also one not often visited in film. There are also a pair of outstanding performances. Unfortunately, a disjointed story negatively impacts the movie.