The Second Woman (2012)

Shu Chen, Mengmeng Niu, Qi Shu, Meijuan Xi,
Qing mi is a movie starring Shu Chen, Mengmeng Niu, and Shu Qi. Hui Bao is an actress rehearsing for a performance in a theater play alongside her boyfriend Nan. Falling sick and being unable to perform in the play, her twin sister...
  • 5.2 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Ho Lai, Writer:
  • Miu-Suet Lai, Director:
  • Gordon Chan, Alex Dong, Producer:

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6 / 10

A Nutshell Review: The Second Woman

One suspects writer-director Carol Lai may have harboured some Black Swan ambitions with a tale that also centers around a stage practitioner who embarks on an unwitting destructive journey when playing a role to die for. The Second Woman, whose Chinese title Romance Riddle may hold better clues as to how this film developed, being more of a guessing game that threw constant clues rather than a overly romantic film about twins falling in love with a man who decided it's perfectly OK to string both women along, until he discovers that this spells double trouble.

Nan (Shawn Yue) and Hui Bao (Shu Qi) are a romantic couple in the stage acting profession. He is of leading man material, but his girlfriend Bao is at best, when his influence isn't waning and his leading lady is in a good mood, the supporting actress in the bid budgeted production of Legend of the Plum Blossom, about a scholar falling in love with two women in a supernatural tale about spirits and possession. With the stage being a mirror in life, Nan soon finds himself also falling in love with Hui Bao's older twin sister Hui Xiang (Shu Qi again), who doesn't resist his advances, being probably more attractive to him in terms of character, the demure though more emotionally charged compared to the relatively immature Bao.

Carrying out an affair with Hui Xiang while maintaining his relationship with Hui Bao, you know Nan's just asking for it when the two women sense a shift in attitudes, especially when they start to clash over Xiang's determined takeover of Bao's stage life when the latter falls sick before her final performance, and Xiang's performance wins accolades that Bao can only dream of. Jealousy in their professional lives, yes, but when you throw a man into the picture, things can get messy. They confront each other, and as it turns out, one of them emerges the victor, but who? That's when the movie kicks into full gear to keep you guessing just who Shu Qi is playing. While the first act introduces us to the two distinct sisters with their differences clearly defined in character and physical outlook - one wears her hair constantly up, and the other letting it down - these are indeed superficial changes should anyone decide to take over the role of the other and dress in similar fashion. And since both are actresses, or an actress wannabe, becoming the sister is nothing impossible, keeping up the Riddle and mystery in the title as to which of the two sisters Shu Qi is playing, since it involves an open ended possible murder mystery that happened in the deep sea thrown in as well, with Xiang mysteriously missing, but not before calling a neighbour to look after her blind mom when she's away on business.

Is she actually Bao who had gotten rid of her sister Xiang, or is she Xiang who had usurped Bao's position? Or is Xiang deranged as the first scene would have suggested, schizophrenia and all, or worst, the story having the gall to pull a rug from under all our feet to suggest they may even be the same person? As the film goes on with Nan's investigative friend and his sister going all out to seek the truth while Nan continues to string Bao/Xiang along to reveal everything, but frankly up until a certain time you'd stop caring, and decide to just enjoy Shu Qi's performance taking up characteristics from both twins.

And that I suppose sounded the death knell for the mystery it wanted to build up, because it didn't manage to sustain an interest exactly who of the two women we're seeing on screen. Carol Lai also chose to mix things up with her direction, blurring the line between the lives of the characters on stage and outside of it. While the stage play deals with supernatural possession, suggestions do creep into her story outside of the stage, with constant jump cuts and eerie atmospherics contributing to suggestions that we may see what's on stage being repeated in real life given parallels that are converging. This also mirrors the production as well, being undecided whether to be a psychological thriller, or an outright horror film given its numerous jump cuts intended to scare.

The game is up when the filmmakers realize that they have dug a hole so deep that the only way out is to have two characters, whose value to the film is saved entirely for the finale, to explain everything in very verbatim terms like a sort of cheat sheet in spilling the beans, inclusive of new scenes yet to be seen to allow for the connection of the dots, spoonfeeding the audience in the hopes of not letting the slightest of clues go unnoticed, and hopefully to make sense of everything else that had transpired, including a found trenchcoat at sea, a haunted, abandoned theatre and a blind mom who for all her heightened senses and years spent on motherhood and weaning her twins, couldn't tell them apart. Perhaps a tighter story could be crafted from its promising premise if there's a bold leap of faith in a more sophisticated audience capable of piecing everything together themselves.

6 / 10

Shu who?

Shu Qi is so nice, you get her twice, that's who. Jokes and puns aside, this movie is clearly a riff on Black Swan with an added twin love story woven in between. I had forgotten that Black Swan was released 2010, 2 years before this movie got out. But its influence is clear, whether you find that appealing or not is up to you.

Appealing is something that rings true for Shu Qis characters. And you can somehow understand the love interest in this being confused at times. On the other hand, he seems a glutton for punishment. There are hints that should suggest him breaking his ties to Shu Qi and try something new (but again, if you're a fan of her you can understand his dilemma).

Having said all that, there are too many holes in the story and even the very crazy twist towards the end may not be able to sustain your interest or win it back for that matter. Still a nice piece for Shu Qi to stretch her acting muscles

4 / 10

A confusing mess...

Director Miu-Suet Lai tried to put together a pseudo-supernatural love-story thriller, but the elements she tiled together just didn't fit together as snuggly as jigsaw puzzles, and the end result was a somewhat confusing mess of a movie that set out to accomplish more than it could muster.

The story is about actress Bao (played by Shu Qi) rehearsing to star in a theatrical production with her boyfriend Nan (played by Shawn Yue). But as she becomes ill and unable to get on stage, Huixiang her identical twin sister (also played by Shu Qi) replace her on the stage. With her success and time with Nan, Bao Begins to suspect them for cheating on her.

The core of the story was good enough, but it was all drowned in the drama between the twin sisters and Nan, to the point where it just got to be too much. And the audience is left in the dark for most of the movie, only to have the carpet pulled away from under them by an abrupt and really silly ending to the movie after the revealing of what was going on.

Shu Qi carried the movie with grace in both roles, just a shame that the script and the director didn't offer her more to work with. As for Shawn Yue, well he sort of had a glazed over distant stare, as if he was miles away throughout the entire movie, and that was dragging the movie down.

I watched "The Second Woman" (aka "Qing mi") out of my love for Hong Kong cinema and admiration of Shu Qi, but this 2012 movie wasn't the brightest of moments in Hong Kong cinema nor in Shu Qi's career.

7 / 10

An enjoyable outing !

I personally had no difficulty following this film. The theme of sibling rivalry is always of interest. Qi Shu did a great job playing both sisters. When murder enters the scene and we are forced to guess which sister is which things get exciting. Personally I love films that allow me to choose how things ended. I can go for days trying to remember clues and re-watch the film. I think its an insult that Hollywood films have to spell everything out for you as if you're a child....and of course give a happy ending. Well not many things in life end happily and its great to watch a film that is real.I think you just need to check it out as some either like or hate this.

Oh, and by the way, to the man who commented that he watched this to follow Hong Kong films. Well, its in Mandarin and everyone in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese. It certainly has investments from HK but it was released as a mainland film.