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Mad Fate (Ming On): Film Review

Entertaining to a point, the wild Mad Fate (Ming On) stays true to its title but fails to keep its initial energy up for the full runtime.

Mad Fate (Ming On) certainly has one of the most amusing CGI animals in a film from recent years. Whereas in RRR we had a kaleidoscope of CGI wild mammals doing battle, in Mad Fate, its computerised animal is a little black cat. Just like director S.S. Rajamouli (Baahubali) did in his Bollywood sensation, Mad Fate’s Soi Cheang (Limbo) includes it with a knowing wink and cheeky smirk. Mad Fate takes this kookiness and runs with it, with recurring mystical illusions appearing in the sky, amusing dialogue in its most serious moments, and a charming depiction of fate and coincidence. Disappointingly, both the energy and allure of the film wear thin as it hits the latter stages, whilst themes of mental health and suicide are depicted terribly.

Mad Fate begins on a stormy night in a graveyard, as a fortune teller known as The Master (Lam Ka Tung, Limbo) fakes the death of a woman. She is due to face death between the hours of 7-9; by staging her demise, he hopes to trick fate into believing she’s already passed – something we discover is easier said than done. After the ritual goes wrong due to heavy rain, the woman returns to her apartment only to be murdered by a serial killer (Chan Charm Man Peter, Table for 6). By chance, coincidence, bad luck, fate, or whatever you want to call it, The Master and the killer’s lives intersect in this brutal moment, along with those of delivery man Siu Tung (Lokman Yeung) and a police detective known as The Veteran (Berg Ng, Infernal Affairs).

Yau Nai Hoi (Running on Karma) and Melvin Li’s (Gau ngao gau) screenplay is well structured in these earlier, potentially confusing scene-setting moments of Mad Fate, whilst Cheang guides us enticingly through this scintillating kaleidoscope. The tiny details that have brought these men together to this moment give you more than enough to ponder in terms of whether fate is real, or if it’s all just one big coincidence. Why did the rain fall onto Siu Tung’s delivery note, changing the number 9 to a 7, thus leading him to the scene of the crime? The killer noticing the woman’s address in the paper can’t just be a coincidence, can it? Mad Fate plays with these notions gleefully, but this playful nature eventually becomes overwhelmed by the convoluted plot.

loud and clear reviews mad fate ming on berlin film festival berlinale 2023
A still from Mad Fate, an official selection at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival. (© 2022 MakerVille Company Limited and Noble Castle Asia Limited / Berlinale)

Witnessing the murder awakens dark impulses in Siu Tung, and as The Master tries to pull him back from descending a murderous path, his own grasp on reality becomes fragile. Mental illness is never easy to portray in film. It requires compassion, understanding, and sensitivity. Mad Fate is first and foremost about destiny, astrology, fortunes, and so on, but by including a flashback about The Master’s parents’ own struggles with mental illness, it brings a serious matter into a very flamboyant, rather silly situation. The result is, as you might expect, jarring and even unsavoury.

Mad Fate is visually captivating, with neo-noir stylings somehow slotting together with fantastical psychic moments, but Cheang’s initially intriguing and entertaining flick starts to grate. There are still memorable moments dotted throughout these later stages, but the overriding mood by that point is simply weariness. A decent concept, committed performances, and an alluringly silly edge can’t save Mad Fate from its eventual downfall – and perhaps that’s how it was always meant to be.

Mad Fate premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on February 19-22, 2023. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews!

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