Veteran Hong Kong actor Kara Wai stars as a rich homemaker forced to come out fighting against an old nemesis from her shady past.
Given Mrs K's abundance of Tarantino-esque tropes – the spaghetti western theme, the talky stand-offs, the sporadic moments of splattering gore – it's perhaps safe to describe its Malaysian director Ho Yuhang as having delivered his Jackie Brown Kills Bill. And Ho has his Pam -Grier-meets-Uma-Thurman on his side too. Playing a rich housewife literally fist-fighting her way to confront her violent past, Hong Kong veteran actor Kara Wai makes a cracking return to the action-movie roots that propelled her to fame in the 1970s and 1980s.
Reuniting with the filmmaker who revived her career in 2009 with At the End of Daybreak – her turn as a distressed mother resulted in awards galore in Hong Kong and abroad – Wai is obviously the anchoring presence here, as she laps up every opportunity to flex her solid acting and athletic chops. Through her performance, the titular character's desperate pursuit of her antagonists is brought vividly to the fore.
While never short on atmospherics and action, Mrs K is in need of a more focused plot, a more stripped-down screenplay. By delegating a significant bulk of heroic antics to the protagonists' beloved ones, Ho has also diverted from the straightforward, hard-knuckle rollercoaster which his premise promised. Still, the film should appeal to its home audiences in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia after its bow at Busan, and also to martial arts (and Tarantino) fans.
Mrs K begins with the separate deaths of three men: a retiree (Hong Kong director Fruit Chan) dies in his swimming pool; a priest (Kirk Wong, another Hong Kong filmmaker) is slashed in a confessional booth; and a loan shark (Malaysian helmer Dain Iskandar Said) is hacked to death outside his squalid office. Their significance to the plot is not swiftly explained, as the film zips to a lavish house where a homemaker (Wai – her character is never named) prevents two hoodlums' feeble robbery with a sharp move of the wrist and an even sharper aim with a gun.
This comical exchange reveals the seemingly mild-mannered woman's killer instincts – traits at odds with her appearance as the good wife of an affluent doctor (Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai) and the caring mother of a vibrant teen (Siow Li Xuan). Her mask begins to slip with the appearance of a sleazy private eye (Tony Liu), who arrives unannounced at her home armed with a threat to reveal a past Macau-set misdeed committed by her and her associates.
That's just the overture, however, as the ex-cop's minor threat is soon replaced by a more deadly avenger from the past (Simon Yam), who, with the help of a heavy (Faisal Hussein), forces her hand by abducting the woman's daughter. With that, the die is cast and the woman's muscle memory kicks in, as she embarks on a rollicking chase to bury the past in order to save her present and future.
Mrs K runs along nicely during its first half, as Ho plays his leading character's masquerade and the mysterious villains' dark schemes to tense, enigmatic effect. After the big reveal, all bets are off - and not necessarily in a good way. Not content with delivering merely an action-portrait of a woman revealing her long-suppressed violent impulses, Ho makes some ill-advised attempts at complexity and character nuance. That's not what the audience came for.