Mad World (2016)

Directed by Wong Chun
Country: Hong Kong

Following the guidelines of a tight script written by Florence Chan, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Chun releases his debut film, “Mad World”, with promises of having much more to give in the future. The film, a compulsive drama, looks at mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, not only addressing the typical pain and distress that torments patients in this condition but also embracing understanding, expectation, and hope.

The film’s central character is Tung (Shawn Yue), a former successful stockbroker who decided to left his job and personal life to take care of his bipolar mother. Curiously, he struggles with the illness himself, extremely aggravated after his mother’s death, which happened in strange circumstances. So strange that he had to go to court to dissipate all possible doubts related to the incident.

The camera lens fixates on Tung after he has been discharged from the mental hospital and accompanies him in the difficult processes of re-adaptation to the real world and reconnection with his estranged, aging father (Eric Tsang). The latter, a good-natured truck driver, is happy to have him in his tiny space in a single-room-occupancy building. However, he is also concerned with his son, and in fact, he has reasons for that since he stopped taking his pills.

Through recurrent flashbacks, Chung thoroughly reconstructs some key moments in the life of Tung, focusing on his depressing experiences when in the company of his mother, who could cry like a baby in his arms and then suddenly curse him with a painful fury. Moments with his heartless girlfriend Jenny (Charmaine Fong), with whom he will meet up again in an attempt to resume the relationship, are also introduced, helping us to better understand his troubled past.

When everything seemed to be favorable, hope is turned into humiliation, and a fulminant relapse goes on his way without mercy or compassion. Pitch-dark are the clouds that hover above his head, making his poor father hopeless as he keeps observing his son lying on the bed all day, crying, without eating or having the strength to take a shower. These are the most powerful scenes in the film, and they cut like sharp razors.

To complicate, the neighbors don’t feel comfortable when Tung is around and demand his departure. Besides his father, there’s only one person in the building who cares about him, earning his friendship: a bright, sensitive kid who read him Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince at night through the wall. 

“Mad World” is an unadorned, modest tale with a topic many times explored before. Still, and even slightly flawed, it thrives with steeped emotional affluence and gripping performances. Besides sincerity and zeal in the filmmaking and production design, Wong Chun endeavored to extract some light from a life of shadows. Hence, the Best New Director Awards given to him by the Golden Horse Film Festival and the Hong Kong Film Awards are not so surprising.