Lady in Black

My God, what a gut wrenching ending this film has. The last ten minutes will leave you feeling as if you have been emotionally thrown into a blender and shaken very hard. I just lay crumpled on my couch listening to the syrupy ballad play over the end credits – just trying to catch my breath. This lesser known 1987 Brigitte Lin film is pure 100% searing melodrama – a dark and disturbing peek into a marriage - full of horror, tragedy, friendship, love and revenge. Brigitte gives one of her most visceral and tough performances ever as she squeezes every ounce of emotion out of this film. Unlike her better-known fantasy and heroic roles, here Brigitte plays a very ordinary woman driven over the edge by circumstances and a deceitful husband.
Tony Leung Ka-Fai is the deceitful husband and he is wonderfully and totally rotten to the core. Selfish, shallow, greedy, weak and conniving – with a huge chip on his shoulder – Tony is the perfect movie bad guy – someone to hate, but complex enough to be interesting. He convinces his loving wife, Brigitte, to embezzle $500,000 from where she works so that he can invest it in a quick win proposition. He promises that he will return the money in a few days and the family (there is also a son) will have its future insured.

In truth, he is a compulsive gambler and is in debt for $440,000. So he pays off the debt and of course gambles with the rest of the money – even on the night of his son’s birthday party. The son gives one of those classically irritating HK child performances – and I could not entirely blame Tony for not wanting to attend the party. At one point later in the film, Tony spanks the kid – and I was thinking “its about time”!

Without admitting that the money has been lost gambling, Tony does tell Brigitte that their investment went south and all the money is gone – but that he thinks he can borrow the money from a relative in Thailand for her to replace the money before it is discovered missing. So the two of them travel to Thailand and on a boat trip Brigitte accidentally slips over board while trying to help Tony. Tony grabs her hand – but then you can watch his face go through all the calculations – and he decides she is a liability at this point and he slowly lets go of her hand – to hopefully drown in the ocean and disappear. The look of fear and betrayal on Brigitte’s face is something to behold.
Brigitte of course doesn’t go so quietly into the blue beyond. A Vietnamese refugee boat picks her up – but she is horribly disfigured and her voice has become an inaudible croak. She slowly makes her way back to HK, but now unrecognizable and frightening looking she wanders the city without shelter or friends – like a mad woman. In the meantime, Tony wastes no time in sending Brigitte’s father, Shek Kin, who had been living with them packing to an old folks home and is soon romancing the boss’s (Kwan Shan – father of Rosamund) daughter. Things are looking good for him – until a vengeful horribly scarred woman shows up late one night croaking epithets and throwing stones through his window.
Brigitte has some emotionally and physically powerful scenes that is the stuff of good over the top melodrama. In anyone’s hands but Brigittes, this material may have played out in nearly laughable fashion – but she makes it very real and heartfelt. One scene in which she sees her disfigured face for the first time is bone chilling and another in which her good friend finally realizes who she is – was gripping theater. And then in the end Brigitte is like a vengeful force of nature unleashed.

My rating for this film: 8.0