• Charlie Vogelsang

The Empty Hands (2017) Review

Showing at the Focus Hong Kong Festival, The Empty Hands is a slow-paced drama that challenges a woman to step up after the death of her father while dealing with her unresolved issues.

Directed by Chapman To, The Empty Hands follows an unlucky woman’s struggle to regain full ownership of her deceased father’s dojo while she reminisces about her turbulent relationship with him. It stars Stephy Tang as Mari Hirakawa, a Japanese-Chinese slacker who thinks her luck is about to change, only for her father to challenge her one last time.

Mari isn’t typically the character you route for in a film. She’s lazy, disrespectful and having an affair with a married man. Despite this, you can’t help but feel bad for her. Throughout The Empty Hands, you see her struggle with her father’s decisions. He puts the dojo and karate before his family - which leads to her uncle taking his own life and her mother walking out.

You can imagine how relieved she is at finally getting the chance to take over the dojo and do what she wants - but her father leaves 51% of the venue to his old student, played by Chapman To.

This is an emotional and powerful journey that shouldn’t be missed

He agrees to sign over the dojo on one condition - she must start training again and win a valid martial arts competition. Then, she’ll get to do whatever she wants with the place. If she loses, he will continue to teach at the dojo and never give her his half. With her options limited, she reluctantly begins training again to win back her birth-right.

It’s a slow burn of a film but it never feels like it drags. Tang plays a torn-up and misunderstood woman who just wants to be happy. She clearly loved her father, but they have so many unresolved issues that can never be tackled. To plays a loyal student who respects his former master despite falling into crime.

With the shots, characters and choreography, The Empty Hands is a great drama showcasing how our dreams can often be selfish and affect the ones we love most. Occasionally, the music can be a little too cheesy but it fits in decently with the montages. Nothing innovative - but it doesn’t need to be.

Overall, The Empty Hands is an entertaining film that tries to tell us that failure is not the end, and that we must make the most of our limited time with family. It has some comedic elements mixed in with the drama, but it’s mainly a serious story with sport elements showing how hard work and determination can actually pay off.

The Empty Hands is a slow film that focuses on characters never giving up and learning from their mistakes. It’s an emotional and powerful journey that shouldn’t be missed.


Watch The Empty Hands at the Focus Hong Kong Festival. Tickets are available now.