Fantasia Film Festival: Legally Declared Dead Review

Legally Declared Dead

Based on the Yusuke Kishi’s novel titled “The Black House,” Yuen Kim-wai’s Legally Declared Dead is the third adaptation of Kishi’s novel. The film follows Sean, a righteous and kind-hearted insurance agent who is called to visit the home of Tak and Ling. Upon arrival, he soon discovers the corpse of their son hanging in the bedroom. He begins to suspect that Tak and Ling may have murdered their son to collect the insurance money. What he discovers will put him on a journey that will forever change him.

Legally Declared Dead is the kind of fantastic murder mystery that has twists and turns around every corner. Not to mention, it takes our preconceptions about certain stereotypes and turns them against us. It poses the question of whether or not you can trust a violent, mentally challenged person. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, the film consistently makes you think if he’s the monster or if the outside forces are making him behave this way. The film is a master at manipulating our thoughts and thus leading our thoughts astray.

Yet what makes Legally Declared Dead different from other murder mysteries is due to its heavy message about the negative impacts of bullying. It plays a large role in the film. The bullying that people go through as kids has repercussions on our mental health as we get older. The main characters all have their demons and battle it in their way. Some people evolve into better human beings whose sole purpose in life is to help others, then are those who dig deep into some dark and destructive thoughts. The more you progress through the film, the more you realize how flawed and three-dimensional these characters are. At the same time, the more you dig deeper into their troubled past, the darker the film gets. It shows that the happiest of people still have some strong inner demons that they need to exorcise.

Legally Declared Dead - Carlos Chan and Anthony Wong

Hong Kong acting legend, Anthony Wong, is a revelation in this role. He barely has any lines in the film and purely relies on his body language and movement to convey what he feels. Not to mention, his eyes tell a lot about what he’s feeling as well. His portrayal is both frightening and depressing all at the same time — he is the Frankenstein monster in this movie. The acting legend dives deep into the role and shows us that at his age, he’s still able to give us a performance we’ve never seen him do before.

Equally impressive is the film’s star, Carlos Chan. Chan dives deep into his role as he showcases the plights of a man haunted by his demons. The film gets darker because his positive light gets dimmer as the film progresses. It’s a testament to the kind of intense performance required for this type of role.

Unfortunately, this adaptation did not bring out a truly horrifying experience of Yusuke Kishi’s original novel. Yuen Kim-wai overly relies on the stylistic visuals to disturb the audience. The psychological impact of “The Black House” never comes into play with Yuen’s version. Much like the visuals, Yuen wanted to show the message of the film in a blatant way. There isn’t an epiphany because he hands it to you on a silver platter. Sadly, this also makes the film feel hollow — something without any substance. 

Overall, Legally Declared Dead is a film that’s not for the faint of heart. The film is dark and depressing, yet it’s a reflection of the mental state of those bullied as children. Unfortunately, the film is all style and no substance — which, in turn, diminishes the importance of the film’s themes. 

Rating: 3/5 atoms

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