The Sparring Partner (2022)

100% – Critics
100% – Audience

The Sparring Partner Storyline

Based on a shocking case in real life, a young man partners with his friend to murder and dismember his parents. Pleading not guilty to the crime, defense attorneys face each other as nine jurors grapple with the truth.

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The Sparring Partner Movie Reviews

A chilling courtroom drama with strong performances that breaks down Hong Kong society

The Sparring Partner is a thought-provoking courtroom thriller that perpetually spins the table with shifting perspectives. It starts as a murder trial story and expands into a rich compelling cross-sectional look at Hong Kong society.

Based on a 2013 Hong Kong murder trial, Henry Cheung and Angus Tong, are taken to trial for the murder of the former’s parents, Cheung Kuen Kwai and Shiu Suet Yee.

Yeung Wai Lun and Mak Pui Tung give tremendous debut performances. Yeung plays Henry as a fact like a normal person living and breathing before you and is never theatrically scary like a movie psychopath. What’s brilliant is how Yeung blurs the lines of what a psychopath is. Is Henry Cheung a psychopath with zero empathy or is he just trying to be?

The cast all bring a stark realism. Mak Pui Tung was mesmerizing as the mentally-disabled Angus, always mentally lagging and overwhelmed without overdoing it. Jan Lamb’s apathetic matter-of-fact lawyer is the complete 180 from the typical movie lawyer who believes in their client. It’s funny in a cheeky way when you think of how often lawyers are romanticized.

The Sparring Partner stylistically combines cinema verité, documentary reenactment, and a courtroom drama all in one. The story is meticulously layered, effortlessly weaving between killer Henry Cheung’s subconscious mind, alternating viewpoints of his family members, and the jury judging his actions on society’s behalf.

Using this kaleidoscopic structure, director Ho Cheuk-Tin extends the film from a true crime account to a societal look at traditional parenting, generational clash, and social class. Through the 9 jury members, the discussion between the old and new generations, male and female, and young and elderly, the case becomes a reflective commentary on Hong Kong itself.

Henry Cheung blames his parents for his misery and lack of life skills. They forced him to learn the piano despite his lack of interest and sent him to school in Australia where he was subjected to racial bullying. Henry’s gambling debts led his parents to purchase a real estate property for his brother, which instigated his plan to murder them.

Was this tragedy caused by one man’s psychosis, his unfortunate upbringing by his parents or society itself?

The cinematography shows its budgetary restraints but makes up for it twofold with creative visuals. The jury discussions are visualized as the 9 members witnessing the crime happen before them. Also, the portions when we glimpse into Henry’s twisted imagination, which I won’t spoil here, are darkly spectacular.

The Sparring Partner is one of the best films of 2022 and undoubtedly the best Hong Kong film of 2022. I expect acting, writing and directing nominations come awards season.

A Truly New Hong Kong film

Hong Kong film have went low for quite a long time during a lot of reasons. The New titles is either completely commercial or not even care about how the box office perform.

The Sparring Partner, however, seems to find a way between them. It gave a shot on the commercial performance while reserving its authenticity.

The director’s work is amazing, apparently he have learned a lot of techniques from the TVB related shows, which makes the film could successfully send out the excitement whenever the audience start to get bored.

I found this film interesting and it it really precious for the domestic Hong Kong film Market now.

The Sparring Partner

Based on a rather shocking true story from Hong Kong, this is quite an intriguing depiction of the arrest and trial of Henry Chung (Yeung Wai Lun) for the brutal murder and dismemberment of his parents. He is pretty up-front about his guilt and the trial seems a bit of a fait-accompli. The gist of the film, though, centres on the involvement of his accomplice Angus Tong (Man Pui-tung). Now here is a character that has the IQ of a teabag, is overweight and generally comes across as infantile and incapable of taking responsibility for himself. Was he involved at all, and if so – in what capacity? That capacity issue is what makes this courtroom drama stand out. The performance from Man Pui-tung is superb. The depiction (illustrated via flashback) of his rather psychologically brutal interrogation; his constant incoherent mumbling and bumbling; the conflicting medical and psychological reports of his competencies – and all under the gaze of a jury made up of nine ordinary citizens with the prejudices and priorities of nine normal folks is well worked by Cheuk Tin Ho to create a genuine sense of our involvement in the future of this young man. Was he guilty or not? What might I have decided based on the evidence? Is there even any real evidence against him or is he just an easy target for the pursuing constabulary? It is too long, and takes a while to build up steam, but once it gets going it is an interesting character study – not just of the two accused, but of the jury, the police and of the judicial system that provides the framework for this maelstrom of advice, expertise, procedure and the genuine evil emanating from the effective Yeung Wai-lun. The imagery, especially amidst the wig-wearing scenario of the only recently reintegrated Chinese courtroom where the judge is still referred to as “my Lord” is suitably anachronistic too, and invites us to make or own assessments of the people and the process in quite a sophisticated fashion. There is a great deal of dialogue which is difficult for the subtitlers to do justice to, but it is photographed in an intimate and intense fashion and is thought-provoking to watch.