“I don’t feel much at all.”
When a narrative work, film or piece of literature, refers to an actual crime and investigation, there are many aspects you need to consider to make the story and its themes work. By far most important is the approach you use, aesthetically and in terms of storytelling, as it dictates how someone and the horrific acts depicted are perceived, which also ties into respect for actual victims and their relatives. Especially when these acts have been made public, it often becomes quite difficult with sometimes misleading media coverage or favoring a certain perspective, which is the case of the horrific murder of Glory Chau and his wife Moon Siu, who were killed by their youngest son and a friend of his. The crime as well as the investigation and the trail against the two perpetrators have already inspired an episode of the miniseries “Stained” and are now the basis of the actor Cheuk Tin Hothe first movie of “The sparring partnerwhich focuses on the three aforementioned aspects of the case, while examining the perception of the murder in the media at the time.
Trinity CineAsia Presents The sparring partner in select cinemas in the UK
Outside, Henry (Yeung Wai-lun) is an unassuming, if somewhat quirky, man who lives mostly a reclusive life, away from the rest of his family, unsure of what to do with him. However, there is a darkness in him, which one day is discovered when he is accused of having murdered his parents, supported by his friend Angus (Mak Pui-tung). After the arrest of the two men, not only does the trial against them begin, but also the interest of the media, as more and more facts come to the surface, horrific details of the murder, which imply that the two murderers dismember the corpses, boil their flesh and dispose of their remains throughout the city.
While Angus, his mother and their legal representative want nothing more than to receive a merciful plea from the judge and use every means at their disposal to achieve their goal, Henry seems to thrive on being the center of attention, clinging to the fame he was provided by the media. During the trail, the jury must see if the two, especially Angus, are guilty and fully responsible for their actions, work their way through often conflicting accounts, even more gruesome details of the bloody act and finally a man with seemingly no motive other than a craving for some kind of attention.
Similar to the legal proceedings as presented in the plot, the narrative structure of “The Sparring Partner” seems to follow the logic of a journey that comes and goes, as new evidence is uncovered, new stories surface, and it becomes necessary to go back to past events in order to get a better picture of something quite horribly unimaginable. As you can imagine, this approach has its god and its bad repercussions, as it often creates tension with new details and new perspectives that appear, while on the other hand, it could explain the slowness of the film. -even, which at 135 minutes seems too long in time for its own good, with the aforementioned interesting moments far too few to sustain a consistent level of viewer interest or engagement.
What makes this point even more problematic is the skill of the director when it comes to capturing the mood and presenting a certain point of view on our obsession with fame and attention, especially at the digital age. For example, the scenes involving the jury of people from diverse backgrounds emphasize the variety of reactions to the macabre, ranging from trying to cover their eyes, experiencing trauma, and finally being fascinated by the blood and gore. Like Henry, actor Yeung Wai-lun gives a chilling performance as someone showing no emotion, who has become detached from the world around him and has become almost impossible to decipher as he apparently hides behind known tropes, such as having a history of domestic violence in his family. Interestingly, the more insights and details are uncovered, the harder it becomes to distinguish between fact and fiction, which is most definitely a great quality in a story like this.
In conclusion, “The Sparring Partner” is a true crime thriller inspired by a horrific murder, the trial that followed and the media coverage of this event. Cheuk Tin Ho takes a look at the problematic idea of fame and notoriety in the digital age, while telling the story of a truly creepy individual who remains a cipher to others, thanks to an excellent performance by Yeung Wai- mon.