Justice, My Foot! (1992)

Directed by
Good if you're a Chiau fan
Reviewed by Simon on 2007-03-14

Sung Sai Kit (Stephen Chiau) is a quick-witted and sharp-tongued lawyer in some undefined period of Chinese history. His talents enable him to win any case, regardless of the guilt of his client, but his unscrupled approach to his work seems to have cursed his children to an early death. His wife (Anita Mui) makes him to swear that he will never practise law again, and he reluctantly makes an oath. When she meets a young widow who claims her husband was killed by her greedy in-laws, she wants to help and persuades him to take one last case. Since the widow's in-laws happen to be related to an important official, he will have to battle corruption to bring the widow justice.

"Justice, My Foot!" is a fine blend of the surreal nonsense humour that nobody does like Stephen Chiau with a pretty good story and some strong characters that generate actual emotion. There's also a bit of action from Ching Siu-Tung. It's well directed by Johnny To and nicely lensed by Peter Pau. It was the top grossing film in Hong Kong in 1992.

Whilst most of the cast are over-acting and being silly, the principle leads (Chiau and Anita Mui) show their versatility by bringing depth and complexity to their characters. They get to be silly too, but also cover a wide range of emotions with their sometimes subtle performances (particularly Anita Mui, who is fantastic here).

It's a mistake to try to characterise the humour in a Stephen Chiau film as purely 'mo lei tau' or 'slapstick' - the humour in the film runs the range from outrageous slapstick and literal fart gags to the trademark wordplay that is presumed largely lost on a gweilo like me (I can spot odd pieces that the subtitles clearly weren't even bothering to try and translate) and some quite clever and subtle gags. It's actually rather sophisticated comedy, even whilst it's being incredibly low-brow. It's also a mistake to purely class the film as "comedy", as there is a warmth and humanity that transcends genre. What makes Stephen Chiau such a great film-maker is that he isn't pinned down by his 'style', unique as it is (even before he was officially writing and directing, it was very noticable that Stephen Chiau films were much more like other Stephen Chiau films than they were like the other film of his various writers and directors)

JUSTICE, MY FOOT! is very much a Stephen Chiau film, which means you probably know whether or not you're going to like it if you're reading this review - you just want to know how it compares with his other films. Not his best, not his worst, but certainly worth a watch if you like this style of film.