Watching “The Second Woman” is a bizarre experience. To begin with, it’s bad with some good sprinkled on. The good is that it’s very self-aware and strangely allegorical. The protagonist, Hui Bao, represents director Miu-suet Lai, while her twin, Hui Xiang, represents the audience watching the movie. The bad is how Lai goes about putting those aspects together. She never allows the audience to interpret the movie for themselves.
Viewers can see this flaw from the very beginning. The movie opens with a sloppily edited, but intense, dream sequence that moves too quickly to feel important. Lai doesn’t give the audience enough time to feel emotionally connected to the character being introduced. With cliched music behind it, the sequence becomes ugly and stunted. This opening sets the stage for the whole movie. In other words, it sucks.
It’s not accurate to call it a drama. At heart, it’s a melodrama. Hui Bao (Qi Shu, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”) is cast in a play alongside her boyfriend, Nan (Shawn Yue, “Mad World”). Before long, she falls ill and has to pull out of the production. Bao’s twin sister Hui Xiang (Qi Shu) quickly moves in and replaces her sister. Xiang is in love with Nan and seizes the chance to take over her sister’s life completely. Bao knows this and realizes she must fight to stop it.
On the surface, it sounds exciting. In practice, the director tells the story instead of showing it. She does not trust the audience to connect the dots. At all costs, Lai avoids subtlety because subtlety leads to ambiguity, and ambiguity often leads away from the director’s intent.
When a work is released, it is no longer the creators. Viewers will put into it what they will regardless of the director’s intent. Lai can’t accept that the audience will form their own interpretations. For example, an early scene finds Xiang talking to an old friend. They reminisce about the past 20 years, but the dialogue is so awkward that it feels robotic. Xiang flat-out says that she feels inadequate to her sister. Lai would have been better off showing the viewer that inadequacy rather than having Xiang tell us.
The structure is so muddled and confusing that it, at times, feels unintelligible. But all the chaos points towards the central question: how important is the audience in creating a film? Very important. In fact, the movie’s convoluted structure answers this question. Not trusting the audience’s ability to follow the plot is the movie’s downfall. Without any interpretation of your own to latch onto, “The Second Woman” becomes a grueling slog to get through.