Whilst perusing Netflix to find an Asian drama, Mad World popped up in my recommendations. Considering mental illness is still rather hush-hush in the east, I didn’t have high hopes that Mad World would cover the topic with subtly and honesty.
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Mad World (2016)
There is a stigma when it comes to mental illness, not just for those that experience it, which is many, but in talking about it in general. For some people, the idea of being mentally ill gives images of individuals shut away in institutions who may pose a danger to themselves or to others. Mental illness comes in many forms ranging from stress and anxiety to depression and psychotic episodes. It’s such a wide area that it’s dangerous to pigeonhole the subject or group every mental ailment under the same banner. Wong Chun’s 2016 film, Mad World, offers a study of one example of mental illness and the impact this has not just on an individual but on those around them.
Tung (Shawn Yue) was once a happily married man and a financial analyst with a good salary. However, when we join him at the outset, he has been discharged from hospital, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and cared for by the staff there. Upon leaving the hospital, Tung reunites with his estranged father (Eric Tsang), a truck driver who lives a meagre existence in a tiny flat. Tung’s return to a new and cramped home and acclimatisation back into society promises to be difficult but his hopes are not helped by unwanted demons from the past in the form of his wife, Jenny (Charmaine Fong), his mother (Elaine Jin), not to mention suspicious neighbours and wary former friends and colleagues. The question is can Tung find a way to settle back into life?
I found many things Mad World did to be good, especially the unforgiving and judgemental side of society with Tung essentially treated as an outcast for having the audacity to have been ill in the first place. Many he once had good relationships with prefer to keep him at arm’s length. The perception from many is that now diagnosed as bipolar, Tung is incapable of revisiting anything of his former life. The film is anchored by the central performances from Yue and Tsang, the complexity of the father and son relationship being explored well. Unfortunately, the film suffers from trying to do too much in its short run time. Tung has a lot of elements from his past that have to be addressed as well as new challenges in the present day. As a result, it feels like many of the threads are not fully moulded by the conclusion which is a shame.
Verdict: A thoughtful portrait of mental illness let down by trying to do too much with the narrative.