Murder in San Jose

Murder in San Jose

Bell and I went to watch a play called Murder in San Jose. It was a Hong Kong play which won 4 awards at the 2009 Hong Kong Drama Awards. All the original actors will be acting in this performance so it was quite a treat. The description said that it was a psychological thriller. Alice Lau was the lead actress and she was the main reason I wanted to watch the play. Most of the play was in Cantonese but luckily there were English and Chinese subtitles so we still managed to understand what was going on.

The Plot

Tang and Ling were a middle-aged couple who had stayed in USA for many years. Ling was pregnant with their first child. The story started with Sammy, Ling’s childhood friend back in Hong Kong, flying to USA for a holiday and dropping by to stay with Ling for a few days. Sammy’s cheerful and out-going personality was a direct contrast to Ling’s serious and controlling nature. During those few days, it was revealed that the marriage was on rocky grounds.

Spoiler Warning!

Finally Tang was so angry with Ling that he left home for a few days and returned wanting a divorce. Ling blamed it on Sammy and revealed the real reason that Sammy left Hong Kong.

Back in Hong Kong, Sammy’s affair with Alvin was revealed after his wife committed suicide. Ostracized by the people around her, Sammy left Hong Kong to get away from it all. Sammy tried to explain that she and Alvin broke up before his wife committed suicide, that she really loved Alvin and had been together with him for many years. Upset with all that is happening, Sammy tried to leave the house but Tang stopped her.

Saying that Ling was no saint either, Tang told her a story of a lonely woman studying in USA who married a man she did not love to get away from her old life. But she was unhappy in her marriage and had an affair with a bartender. One day, the husband caught them at home and in a panic, they killed him. The couple buried him in the garden and the bartender took on the identity of the husband. Upon finishing his story, Tang urged Sammy to killed Ling and take her place. Tang kept brainwashing Sammy, saying that she has no other choice now that she knew the truth, it was either Ling or her, that it was survival and nobody would blame her. The stage went dark just as it looked as if Sammy was going to kill Ling.

When there were lights again, Tang was seen walking about the house calmly as if nothing happened. Finally he settled on a chair to read a book. A pregnant woman entered the house and hugged him. Then she left the house and returned carrying a pink suitcase which Sammy had left in the car of a Mexican at the beginning of the play. After commenting that the Mexican still took the wrong turning, she left the room. Tang opened the suitcase and out fell a baby jumper.


Bell and I agreed that this play ranked among the best that we had seen. I thought the play was well-written although some parts felt a bit irrelevant and I lost interest. There wasn’t a lot of action so it was just mostly people talking. I guess I felt this way was partly because I already knew that this was a psychological thriller about a murder. So I kept waiting for something that would give a hint of it. But there were no indications that Tang and Ling were anything but an ordinary couple until right at the end. The tension started to build up in the second half of the play and quickly accumulated until it reached its peak at the ending.

Despite this play being a psychological thriller, the script was littered with witty lines and we laughed a lot. There were also observations made about the relationship between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan presented by the multinational guests at appeared at Tang’s impromptu house party. It was interesting that the whole play had only one setting – the living room of Tang’s and Ling’s home. With all the action happening in the house, it did in some way reflect how isolated and cut off from the society Tang and Ling were. Despite living in USA for many years, they were still not really part of the American society.

I admired that skill of the scriptwriter. After watching the play and knowing the secrets, I thought back to the beginning and suddenly innocent remarks took on a deeper significance. For example, in the beginning of the play, Sammy commented that despite being 47 years old, Tang looked as if he was only a few years older than her. Now when I looked back, I realized that Tang could really be only a few years older than Sammy because he took on the identity of Ling’s real husband who was 47 years old.

I thought the three main actors acted really well. Sammy was like a harmless little lamb who was brought to slaughter. Bell and I feel that she was really unlucky and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tang felt like a weakling in the beginning but then he revealed that he was not only weak but the evil kind of weak. Ling at first felt like a rather anal person but with good intentions and she seemed to care dearly for her husband and Sammy. It was only towards the end that she felt a bit psychopathic. But the the most bone-chilling for me was the nonchalant way Ling commented about the Mexican who brought back Sammy’s missing luggage. I was so disturbed by the ending that I told Bell that if she migrated to another country, I’m not going to visit her. Bell told me, “Go and die lah.”

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