Final Justice
Hong Kong 1997
Directed by Derek Chiu.

This courtroom drama about a fallen priest boils down to one word. And I'm sorry to say, that word is 'smegma.'

Those of you who were shocked and offended by the scandalous Monica Lewinski affair, centering as it did around the correct definition of a blow job, obviously hadn't been prepared by a viewing of Final Justice, which is a legal thriller built around not only a simple blow job but also a tissue stained with smegma. One might have been offended by media descriptions of the stained blue dress, but now I am just relieved they didn't also find traces of a cheese-like substance.

Father Li (Lau Ching-Wan) is repressed sexually, but hey, so are all other priests, and for that matter a good portion of the adult population. So when beautiful Almen Wong starts coming on to him, he resists -- at first. But it's hard to think of Christ when Almen Wong has come up behind you and is doing the reach-around to your crotch. Pretty soon he succumbs to the temptation, and they go at it so hard the cross fell off the wall. Wait! The cross falls off the wall! I get it now! It's symbolic, you see! Wow. Deep. Anyway, she becomes obsessed with him, but he won't leave the church to be with her, a process known as 'defrocking.' She starts acting like Glenn Close, stalks him for a while, and pretty soon accuses him of rape, for which he is arrested. The court of popular opinion has him convicted even before the trial begins. Through his childhood friend, who as it turns out grew up to be a Triad kingpin named Man (Eric Tseng), he gets the aid of a top lawyer (Carmen Lee) to defend him. Will the priest get off? Er, again? The prosecution and defense attack with equal vigor, questioning him thoroughly. Does he or has he ever spanked the monkey? Did she polish his doorknob? And smegma, people, let's not forget the smegma. In a few simple words, please describe to the jury your smegma. Thank you, your honor, we have no further questions.

Strangely, this is not a Category III film, though clearly it could have been, if handled right. The alleged rape could have been depicted more explicitly, of course, with a little wonka-wonka guitar instead of that damn choral music. Having them undress even a little bit would have been nice. Then something hot could start between the priest and his barrister. Maybe the rape trial could have been conducted in the nude. But no, an opportunity for gross exploitation is completely missed.

Instead, we have a story which wrestles with big ideas, like forgiveness, sacrifice, redemption, and justice. At least, it starts out wrestling with them but is pinned to the mat fairly quickly and the rest of the movie just sort of plods through in sort of a painful half-nelson.

Lau Ching-Wan is very good as the fallen priest, a man with flaws who makes a simple mistake but stands by his convictions. And Almen Wong is incredibly sexy, and yes you will believe a priest can forget himself when she is there. It is a test of his faith, or at least, it becomes one. Justice in the courts becomes entangled with heavenly justice. Father Li struggles to weigh his right to defend himself with his belief that he should do no harm to others.

The best character in the film is the Triad boss, Man. Eric Tseng brings a certain humanity to the role of a man (Man) who kills, then goes to the confessional for forgiveness from God, which gives him peace of mind. With a clean conscience, he can kill again. He doesn't seem so evil, though, and that's what makes his character so compelling. It seems that, perhaps, he can be 'saved.' It is the tension here, between this character's evil actions but good spirit, that begins to draw the audience's greater interest.

The first half of the film develops these plot threads, fleshes out the characters, sets the stage for the drama, and defines the higher issues with which it will contend. It was with some interest then that I started to watch the second half of the film. But by the end, my interest was completely deflated by a script which could not carry the ideas with which it was weighed. It was as if, after carefully building a house stone by stone, no one could think up what kind of roof it should have, construction time ran out, and someone through some corrugated iron over it and called it a day. Almen Wong is never developed fully into a real person, we never understand her motivation for bringing the rape case against the priest. Instead we get some shallow psychobabble from the barristers who define her as 'emotionally unstable' because she had 'too much sex' and no longer finds normal sex exciting. Lau Ching-Wan starts out strong but ends up just sitting around looking forlorn at the end. Those looking for some character development in what is supposed to be character-driven drama will be disappointed. However, those looking for careful discussion and consideration of smegma need look no further than here. Your dreams have been answered.

At one point during the trial, two nuns who have been in attendance get up and leave. I feel their pain, but nevertheless stay on until the anticlimactic end. The film is well directed by Derek Chiu, really quite beautifully shot. But it is hollow on the inside. Whether this is intentional, a deeper metaphor for the Hong Kong legal system or for Catholicism, I leave up to the reader to decide.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 22, 2004.

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