Limbo (2021)

Directed by
A Hong Kong film
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-06-18

The police assign a greenhorn fresh out of the academy to work with a veteran detective on a presumed murder case after a severed hand is found dumped at a shrine. Soon after another hand turns up, and since they are both left hands they suspect there might be a serial killer on the loose.

I don't generally get excited about a new movie from Hong Kong these days, but this one's been making some ripples - including a few HKFA nominations. It feels like something of a throwback to gritty Hong Kong films from the 2000's like BEAST STALKER and Soi Cheang's own Dog Bite Dog - or perhaps the more nihilistic Milkyway Image films such as The Longest Nite.

You can readily trace its "cops on the edge" bloodline back to classics such as City On Fire though - it's pretty easy to imagine Chow Yun-Fat in Gordon Lam's role. That's a genuine Hong Kong Cinema pedigree, and you don't get many films with one of those these days.

The black and white cinematography is striking - apparently the film was originally in colour but they decided in post-production that the bleak atmosphere of the film would be better served by monochrome. It appears they were right - Hong Kong has never looked quite so hellish.

Limbo 031

The look also fits the film's morals, which are... well clearly not black and white, but smeared out in grey with some deep, dark shadows. Hong Kong is rendered as an unforgiving and corrupting environment whose alleyways contain lurking horrors ready to punish those who stray into their domain.

Nobody receives more punishment than Cya Liu, playing a girl freshly released from jail who wants to atone for her sins in a world where mercy is in short supply. Her role looks very demanding physically and emotionally, and its worrying how convincingly she portrays trauma.. It's a fantastic performance and I hope she wins awards for it - it seems like the sort of role that either makes you a star or turns you off acting forever.

It's good to see that Hong Kong can still produce grim, cynical films like this and hasn't been completely neutered by Chinese censorship rules. I don't suppose we can hope for more than a couple such films a year, but that ain't zero so it's something.