Mack the Knife (流氓醫生)

mack the knife 2

Mack the Knife has the meandering plot of an extended TV serial, and it takes its time going places, if indeed it is going anywhere at all. There’s no driving narrative behind this drama; instead, the movie relies on the strength of its characters to sustain its 100 minute running time. The cast and writers largely do a good job of it, but those wanting more than talking heads will prefer other options.

Star Tony Leung Chiu-Wai does most of the heavy lifting as the unorthodox Dr. Mack Lau who runs a clinic in a seedier part of town. He doesn’t care much for the prestige of his profession and shares an easy rapport with those on the margins who make up his patients and neighbors. These are petty thieves, young women who seek a quick abortion, and old folks who just need to pass their time. Leung has the grungy, unshaven appearance of someone who needs a cold shower, which helps him look the part, but he also slips easily into the role with a deft combination of humor, recalcitrance, and sober awareness.

Besides his patients, Mack’s main interactions are with his friend, Chiu (Lau Ching-Wan), a police officer with a similarly lackadaisical approach to his job. Chiu’s primary dilemma is his entanglement with a Mainland prostitute, a plot device that hardly gets a new airing. And while Lau lends his character real affection, this storyline is too put on from him to overcome.

That leaves Andy Hui as the idealistic Dr. Sam So, a Médecins Sans Frontières type who dives into the shittiest urban clinic he can find the day after graduation. Hui is perky and naive enough to make his mostly one-sided romance with a cancer patient (Hilary Tsui) believable if a little hackneyed, but I found Sam’s dynamic with the seasoned Mack more interesting to watch as the realities of the profession become more pronounced for the young doctor. Alex To provides additional counterweight as Mack’s rival, Dr. Roger Jor, a slick surgeon who overcompensates because his skills in the operating room don’t match Mack’s. A love triangle featuring Christy Chung and a Merchant Ivory-like garden party also heightens Roger’s jealousy.

With its web of doctors, patients, police officers, criminals, and lovers, Mack has echoes of TVB’s classic show Healing Hands, though this movie predates it by a few years (both boast a very loungy 90s jazz soundtrack, however). Leung’s performance in particular gives significance to the mundane, but ultimately, the film is too static to have a lasting effect.

(The poster below does not approximate the tone of this movie.)

mack the knife

“Crazy” by Tony Leung:

Released: 1993
Alt Title: Dr. Mack
Prod: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Dir: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Writer: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Lau Ching-Wan 劉青雲; Andy Hui 許志安; Christy Chung 鍾麗緹; Alex To 杜德偉; Hilary Tsui 徐濠縈; Eileen Tung 童愛玲; Law Kar-Ying 羅家英; Gigi Leung 梁詠琪; Richard Ng 吳耀漢; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Lawrence Ng 吳啟華; Wong Hei 王喜; Wyman Wong 黃偉文; Jerry Lamb 林曉峰
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014