Review: 'Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂)' has an unsatisfying resolution

Karena Lam is Michelle in “Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂).” (Golden Village Pictures)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 99 minutes (~1.75 hours)

“Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂)” is a Hong Kong drama that’s adapted from the play of the same name. It’s the story of a pastor, Ko, who inadvertently falls in love with a colleague and churchgoer, Michelle, that results in disastrous consequences. It stars Jacky Cheung (Pastor To) and Karena Lam (Michelle). It is rated M-18.

“Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂)” is a story about responsibility versus passion. It captures the struggle of faith that plagues even the most devout among us, as well as the devastating consequences of the justice system’s female bias. It’s an introspective look at morality versus carnality, with humanity prevailing in the end.

Pastor To (Jacky Cheung) in “Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂).” (Golden Village Pictures)

Highlights

Religious element is well done, not overplayed

The two main characters are religious, but their faith acts as a governing force for their actions, rather than completely defining them. Pastor To (Jacky Cheung) is given another dimension with his corporate roles, and being religious is only part of Michelle’s (Karena Lam) character traits. Symbolism is where religion features heavily in the film, which is represented through props and dialogue.

Role reversal of the characters

The role reversal works well with the religious symbolism. It’s a little overdramatic since to emphasise the exchange, they have to exaggerate their newfound ideologies. But it’s a skillful way of depicting the contrast between faith and passion while still allowing the story to unfold with tension.

Jacky Cheung is fascinating as Pastor To

Pastor To is vain, proud, and ambitious, which run counter to your expectations of a pastor. He has no trouble justifying his actions out of the church while still maintaining the role of a religious leader within the church. His performance as a man who’s suddenly unable to justify his situation is amazing to watch, and you empathise with his struggle to maintain, or perhaps deny, his hypocrisy.

Michelle is a woman you love to hate

Michelle appears to be a classic honey trapper, but in her own warped way, she’s just as much as victim of the circumstances as Pastor To is. Nevertheless, her wrathfulness and vengefulness ironically prove that Pastor To was right all along, and her manipulation of the people and systems around her is both cunning and horrifying at the same time.

Pastor To and Michelle share a moment in “Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂).” (Golden Village Pictures)

Letdowns

Slow pacing

The film takes very long to get to its central premise, and its flashback techniques don’t work too well as they’re confusing at the beginning. Jumping back and forth across the timeline is meant to add tension by creating a different impression of what actually transpired, but the way it’s presented makes it obvious that critical information is left out, negating the tension. And the film ends in an incredibly unsatisfying way, with nobody getting their deserved reward or comeuppance.

The duplicitous Michelle “Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂).” (Golden Village Pictures)

“Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂)” gives little gratification, even if the subject matter is interesting.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? OK.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 3.0/5

“Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂)” opens in cinemas 7 April, 2016 (Thursday).