The Chinese medical drama-thriller “Sentence Me Guilty” gives too much away in the early running and has nowhere special to go after that. Centered on a female doctor framed for highly unethical behavior in the wake of her young daughter’s death, the pic has some intriguing elements but generates little tension and doesn’t deliver the emotional clout auds might reasonably expect from a tale involving a grieving mother. Still, with China’s anti-corruption campaign in full swing, the film’s scathing commentary on high-level wrongdoing should help attract domestic ticket buyers, though its international outlook is less encouraging. Scattered fest dates and minor regional play seem most likely.
The setting of writer-director Sun Liang’s debut feature is a large city hospital where the 4-year-old daughter of 30-ish staff doctor Feng Xuehui (Li Xinyun) has lost her battle with brain tumors. Immediately following the tragedy, Xuehui is confronted by an angry mob claiming she “killed” a patient. The connections between these two incidents and most of the movie’s mysteries are explained in a rapid series of events that finds implicated fellow staffer Dr. Liu (Guo Zhongyou) committing suicide, and smarmy, opera-loving hospital administrator Kang (Leon Dai) attempting to cover up serious cases of bribery and malpractice.
Clearly intended as lower-level parallels of the high-ranking Chinese officials who have been disgraced and punished in recent times, Kang and several cronies have accepted massive payments to administer ERGLE, an unproven drug with deadly side effects in neurosurgery patients such as Xuehui’s daughter. According to Kang’s glaringly leaky master plan, it’s Xuehui who will take the rap because her signature is on all prescriptions of ERGLE issued by the hospital.
At this point the screenplay has spelled almost everything out, and begins to play less like a thriller and more like a police procedural. For the most part, audiences will be several steps ahead of Zhang (Tian Xiaojie), a no-nonsense cop investigating the hospital’s sudden leap in neurosurgery mortality rates. Zhang’s sleuthing efforts, which inevitably lead to Xuehui’s wrongful arrest, are intercut with peripheral dramas of varying effectiveness. Creating a decent level of interest is the personal and professional connection between Xuehui and Jiang (Li Zhizheng), a handsome young doctor whose private study of ERGLE adds some punch late in the proceedings.
Less successful is the depiction of Xuehui’s marriage to her much older husband, Wennan (Francis Ng). With only a handful of short scenes between the two, the film doesn’t convey much about their relationship apart from Wennan’s angry assertion that it’s over; nor is the burning question of how Wennan and particularly Xuehui feel about the terrible loss they’ve suffered addressed in any significant way. Though mentioned prominently in the film’s promotional material, one of Xuehui’s most crucial decisions is not explicitly revealed until far too late, making her a less compelling central character than she might have been.
Though never exactly tiresome, “Sentence Me Guilty” generally lacks spark and surprise. While audiences are likely to be satisfied to see justice prevail, there’s nothing terribly uplifting or inspiring to take away from a screenplay and performances that rarely rise above fair-to-average quality.
Lensing by co-cinematographers Stephanie Leitl and Tong Zhijian is fine. The original music is hit-and-miss; general incidental cues are OK, but the drama is undermined on several occasions by overcooked piano and string arrangements. The English subtitles on the screener link viewed contained numerous spelling and grammatical errors.