Final Justice

Reviewed by YTSL

Hong Kong movies centering on Catholic priests are not exactly a dime a dozen.  Yet as luck would have it, I have now viewed two in the past couple of months; and both the light-hearted "Tri-Star" and this more dramatic Milkway Image effort have a character played by Lau Ching Wan figuring prominently in proceedings.  Somewhat coincidentally too (or perhaps not), neither are among the best works which bear the imprint of two of the HKSAR's most prominent -- and not particularly famously religious -- film people:  Tsui Hark and Johnnie To respectively (though in fairness, To produced but handed over the directing reins to Derek Chiu for what appears to be the least heralded offering from the company he founded in 1996).

From reading such as the HKMDB reviews of it, I have gotten the impression that FINAL JUSTICE is really disliked by those Western fans of Hong Kong movies who have seen it.  Such as a "heavy, misogynistic plot" and "script [that] couldn't decide on a point of view or a style in which to tell the story" is what makes it deemed by at least one individual as:  "A true must not see."  Yet the Hong Kong based -- and notoriously negative -- Paul Fonoroff actually considered it "one of the more contemplative Cantonese films in recent months", whose story successfully "weaves in so many moral issues" (In a review written in early 1997).  So...what is going on and accounts for this not very usual critical state of affairs?
Perhaps the answer lies rather simply in FINAL JUSTICE being a movie:  Whose main touchy focus is on a thirty-something year old priest getting accused of rape by a young woman whose confession he had recently heard; where the key incident was shot in a way that leaves no doubt as to who is the guilty and innocent party involved in the matter; and that possesses what might be described as a contemporary Hong Kong point of view that does not mesh well with the North American PC perspective.  If this is the case, what may well be a more interesting question to probe concerns why this film was made, and what was the thinking behind the presentation of its particular perspectives as well as the choice of highlighted topic(s)?
The way I see it, the salient primary issue in FINAL JUSTICE is not so much the voluntary or involuntary enactment of a single sex act between Father Li Siu Ho (Lau Ching Wan gives another utterly believable performance) and Donna Cheung (Almen Wong in eye-catching form) as how the religious authorities and the courts handle a case that has both moral and legal facets.  When the work is looked at from this perspective, this explains the prominent part played in the movie of a not very pleasant underworld character complexly portrayed by Eric Tsang.  In this way too, added meaning gets conferred on the verbal exchanges and drawing of parallels -- as well as contrasts -- between Father Li and the woman who Eric Tsang's Kim Shun Fat hires as the legal counsel of the childhood friend he regularly confesses his sins to, so that he can be forgiven by God and have peace of mind (Fans of the second billed Carmen Lee ought to realize that her Koo May character only enters into the picture in the 51st minute of the film).
At this point in the review, it should be apparent that I don't find this well-acted effort to be a bad movie.  In fact, I'd even hazard an opinion that FINAL JUSTICE contains -- and not in a terrible way at all -- some thought-provoking arguments and qualities.  Still, this is not to say that I don't have any beef with this production (and/or the brains behind it).  Hopefully without spoiling things too much for those who have yet to view it (and plan to do so), here's stating my feeling that this early 1997 piece may have been too negatively affected by pre-Handover blues.  Consequently, it is saddled with too bleak -- if not downright cynical -- a general outlook on life, people and the ability of non-criminal systems to justly deal with matters that one would like to hope they can handle (better).

My rating for this film:  6.5