A Guilty Conscience

毒舌大狀 | 毒舌律师 | Duk sit dai jong
 •  , , ,  •   • Dir.

Reviewed by   |  Feb 26, 2024

Any lingering doubts as to whether Dayo Wong is Hong Kong’s undisputed box office champion were laid to rest during the 2023 Chinese New Year. Few could have expected his latest film to top the extraordinary business that Wong’s previous hit, ‘Table for Six’, did in 2022, and yet ‘A Guilty Conscience’ would go on to be the most successful local production of all time. It not only obliterated ‘Table for Six’, but also left previous record holder, ‘Warriors of Future’, in its wake. As Isaac Chambers mentioned elsewhere on this site (in his excellent ‘Hong Kong Film Never Dies’ series), there at long last appears to be positive news from the industry that helped many of us fall in love with Asian cinema.

Cocky Hong Kong barrister Adrian Lam (Wong) has long since lost his moral compass, forgetting the principles that he had lived by when starting out in the profession. His arrogance not only costs him his position, but also ends up sending a seemingly innocent woman to prison. Distraught at what he has become, Lam decides to quit and return to offering legal help to the disadvantaged in Mongkok. Yet a chance at redemption appears when Lam finds that the case that changed his life might not be completely closed. After persuading his old partner to return, Lam now builds a case to right the wrong he inadvertently caused. He now has to risk everything as he goes up against Hong Kong’s most powerful and influential family in the fight for justice.

Dayo Wong extends his range with a more serious role in ‘A Guilty Conscience’ – and the risk pays dividends. While not without some dry humour, Jack Ng’s courtroom drama is a mostly sober look at a theme that pops up in cinema worldwide, namely how the legal system tends to favour those with money and influence. It’s hardly a startling revelation, perhaps it might even appear heavy-handed (Wong’s closing speech is a bit unnecessary), but in cinematic terms it works. There is the redemption arc, the courtroom twists, the loathsome antagonists that are cocky to a fault, all familiar tropes for the genre. Yet the result is expertly handled and it’s easy to get caught up in the injustice. A great ensemble cast helps propel this forward with a special mention for Michael Wong who is particularly good as the conniving family pater.

To see well produced Hong Kong films like this mopping up the box office dollars is heart-warming and deserved; it’s a reminder that there is enough quality behind and in front of the camera to compete with cinema from any part of the world. The only hope is that this will spill over to over local films – there are still quite a few being produced, but they still do not get the support of box office behemoths like ‘A Guilty Conscience’. Yet Dayo Wong’s success is heartening and gives Hong Kong film fans hope; ‘A Guilty Conscience’ is a slick evolution of his big screen power.

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