As opening film for HKIFF 2004, Jade Goddess of Mercy (title later changed to Goddess of Mercy, for reasons unknown) should have been excellent. Alas, it fell down in at least one major respect: casting. Although most of the cast did well, and in some cases very well, the female lead was a problem. Vicki Zhao Wei, no matter how perky, no matter how cute, is just not a sufficiently good actress to carry the role of a dedicated cop, and looked like a little girl playing make-believe.
For some of you that will be enough. Indeed, for some the mere presence of Zhao would be enough to render a public service announcement into the highest of art, but I was not convinced. And the fact that the central character was woefully miscast made the film limp and ineffectual.
Perhaps it was just in comparison to Zhao, but the male lead, a mysterious scion of a local suspicious business family, went like a bomb. Nic Tse, a pretty boy with great hair, did some serious acting. Indeed, he almost managed to carry those scenes in which he and Zhao appeared together, and it wasn’t hard to credit our heroine letting glands overrule brains.
The story was a good one, and of course Ann Hui is a respected director, so the rest of the film was well-handled, but there was no getting around a supposedly tough cop who seems to be skipping and giggling half the time (she didn’t, but gave the impression she was about to). And while the story was strong, and should have been enthralling, the gaping hole where a lead actress should have been deflated it substantially. We’re left with no real sympathy for Zhao, and thus no feeling for the characters around her.
Pity, because with a strong lead this film could have been great.