From the Queen to the Chief Executive
Director: Herman Yau
Stars: David Lee, Ai Ching, Tang Su Wing
One of the hardest things to do in creating a socially aware film is getting your point across without beating it over your viewer's head -- to not turn your movie into grandstanding or propaganda. From the Queen to the Chief Executive takes place shortly before the 1997 handover to China (hence the title), where a young woman (Ai Ching) has developed a pen-pal relationship with a convict (David Lee), and enlists the help of a sympathetic senator (Tang Su Wing) to help out the cause of getting him paroled. The film does a surprisingly excellent job in presenting the travails of a group of prisoners who were incarcerated as minors and detained at "Her Majesty's discretion," meaning that they have no set sentence for their crimes. This is surprising (at least to this reviewer) since the movie was directed by Herman Yau, best known for over-the-top horror movies like The Untold Story.
What sets From the Queen to the Chief Executive apart from similar films about prisioners like The Shawshank Redemption or Prison on Fire is that nothing is black or white. Everything is painted in shades of grey. At first, this might prove off-putting to the viewer, as it seems hard to find a sympathetic character in the movie. For instance, even though Ai Ching's character seems sweet and naive, she tried to kill her aunt as a teenager. Tang is dedicated to his job, but ignores or is abusive to his own family. And the brutality of Lee's crime (participating in a rape/murder case) cannot be underestimated. Even though the movie is really not all that violent (especially in the world of prison films), the flashback segements which show the crime definitely have Yau's horror influence on them and are genuinely unsettling. Despite this, Yau manages to create characters which the viewer can develop attachments to, if they allow themselves to do so.
From the Queen to the Chief Executive is a film that rewards multiple viewings, not because of splashy special effects or twisted story lines, but because of characterization. This is a relatively simple part of film that many directors choose to ignore, and From the Queen to the Chief Executive is a refreshing return to a time when a good story was the cornerstone of a film, not its' budget or star. As Hong Kong tries to find its' place in the new global movie market, perhaps they should look more to films like this -- ones that take on Chinese issues while still having a universal message -- instead of big-budget Hollywood wannabes.
While it seems most anyone can slap some special effects and good-looking actors together, it takes something else to create a film which sticks in your mind afterwards. Even though I found myself on the opposite side of many of the characters, From the Queen to the Chief Executive still was a thought-provoking a moving film that warrants a viewing even if serious dramatic movies aren't your cup of tea.
A review of the VCD for this movie can be found here
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This DVD is available for purchase at www.hkflix.com