Don't let the title of this post fool you. I have nothing personal against Stephy Tang, and to be perfectly honest, can't say I've followed her career too closely over the years. But like many singer/actresses in Hong Kong, even from the periphery, you tend to get a sense of who not to take seriously as an artist. Part of this could be due to an ignorance of facts or lack of proper exposure, but it's a casual form of judgement that's probably not all too uncommon.
Stephy Tang is simply one of those actresses I never thought to take too seriously on the talent front of things. And to be fair, with credits to her name that include classics like Love Is Not All Around and L for Love L for Lies, what else is one to do? With all that said, I'm always happy to be proven wrong with things like this, and I came out of The Empty Hands with just one singular thought: Stephy Tang can actually act. Maybe the talent was always there and I just missed a hidden gem in her surprisingly extensive filmography (according to Wikipedia, she has 6 film appearances in 2018), but man was this a welcoming surprise. One of my biggest vices with Hong Kong cinema today is that there is a lack of fresh talent. Stephy Tang might not be fresh in the conventional sense, but appearing as an actress who's actually good at her craft, this is as fresh as it gets.
In addition to the physicality of the role, Tang's performance in The Empty Hands is actually quite nuanced and she demonstrates a wide dramatic range that is beyond impressive. It's no surprise that she was nominated for a Hong Kong Film Award this year, and I really hope she nabs that trophy tonight. It's not easy portraying a deeply flawed character with an overarching redemption act, and have audiences actually root for, rather than condemn, said character. Stephy Tang does that with ease and proficiency, and this is hopefully an indication of what's to come from this former Cookies member.
Before ending off, I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to talk about Chapman To and his achievements as a director. Ignoring his first outing in the director's chair with 2016's Let's Eat, The Empty Hands proves that Chapman To has talents as a filmmaker. Having long been a vocal advocate of Hong Kong cinema in its present times, it's nice to see To rise up both behind and in front of the camera. There's a lot of artistic flare and subtlety to The Empty Hands, and with credits as director, writer, producer and actor on the film, this is the very definition of a passion project gone right. It's actually quite surprising that a film like this came from a (relatively) first-time director, and once again, serves as a hopeful indication that Hong Kong cinema has some fresh roots in its future. Fingers crossed.