Hong Kong cinema has been on the decline when it comes to suspense thrillers and “Murderer” is another attempt to try to hit box-office gold. The film was co-produced by Hong Kong’s own Edko Films and U.S. based Focus pictures, with first-time director Roy Chow Hen-Yeung and Aaron Kwok in the lead, things look very promising. Ang lee is even given special thanks in the film’s closing credits. The hype surrounding the film would be extremely high as many of the crew in Lee’s “Lust Caution” reunite to make the film. So does “Murderer” deliver?
A serial killer is running amok in Hong Kong. Three victims have already been found with holes drilled into their bodies, letting their bodies bleed until the heart stops pumping. The latest victim is a police detective named Tai (Chen Kwan-tai) who is nearly drained of blood and thrown from the top floor of an apartment complex, his friend/partner detective Ling (Aaron Kwok) is the primary suspect, Ling is left almost unharmed with a mild concussion and a loss of memory. Now with Tai in a coma, Ling must solve the murders on his own but what he finds are all the evidences pointing directly to him. Ling begins to doubt his sanity, having problems remembering, he tries to find the answer, and while his duty as a cop takes a second priority as he must act to preserve himself. Is someone trying to frame him for the murders or has Ling developed a form of insanity that makes him kill? His wife Hazel (Janine Chang) is concerned, his sister Minnie (Josie Ho) is worried. Then there is their adopted child named Sonny…
It is difficult to review “Murderer” without spoilers but I will try to minimize them as much as I can. The film starts off strongly enough, the confusion experienced by the main character proved interesting at first. I was intrigued as to how could be causing this collapse in Ling’s psyche and if he was indeed the killer or not. All fingers point to him, and me as an experienced movie watcher know that this was too easy, and that there has to be something more that lies in its screenplay. Aaron Kwok’s performance was good (he is a 2-time winner of the Golden Horse award), although I have to say the direction and the script was a little uneven. Scenes felt a little too overwrought, that I thought he was trying to hard to convince. It wasn’t Kwok’s fault but rather the weak direction that made the scenes feel rather too heavy-handed. Some scenes were good, as Ling tries to cover the evidence (and then the evidence just shows up again). I know they’re all meant to misdirect, but having a mystery having too many scenes to convince that it could be Ling or not becomes a little redundant after awhile. The opening act is extremely violent and not for the faint of heart, the blood and gore is there and admittedly they are quite shocking.
Somehow, despite the movie not being that objectionable manages to become a little uninteresting. Granted, the film relies on its ability to shock and rely on a plot twist to keep the viewer intrigued. Sure the movie’s twist was intriguing but experienced movie goers can see it coming a mile away. Once the police begin to act unconvincingly, they miss clues that they should have seen if they had really investigated. For a mystery thriller supposed to amuse viewers to the way it would unfold, the twist lacks a little in credibility. Not to say that it wasn’t intriguing but maybe a little too convenient. There is a speech that explains everything, surely meant to generate some shock and awe but the acting by child actor fails to convince. It all ended up as something that was over stretched as an “exposition” of the sinister plot. This scene should’ve made my skin crawl but the shock it generated was only momentary as soon as I start seeing the plot holes. It is a sad story for sure, but the exposition of the ‘reveal’ really wasn’t that surprising. At least, it wasn’t as hollow as the one I was privy to in…sorry, I can’t tell you which movie I compare this to.
After this reveal, the film moves rather slowly as it goes to some more melodrama with Ling and his wife. Hey, the scenes were good, but the problem was the direction seems to have set them in a sequence that makes them seem insignificant. After the ‘reveal’, the tension just disappears, and I was made to pay more attention to the yawning plot holes and missteps. I am not sure, but for something that was obviously aiming for some new height of cinematic achievement, the film just falls a little flat and becomes a little campy. Minnie’s character seems like a minor plot device to add another face in the script and maybe to give another ace to the mastermind’s cards. Aaron Kwok does manage to save the film from total disaster, his performance was good despite some scenes were bad, and Janine Chang is just sympathetic as the concerned trusting wife who is torn by her emotions.
I guess what makes “Murderer” fail is the fact that it takes too long to make its point, and when it does, it hampers the screenplay by hampering its own strengths. It uses the overdone histrionics, poor storytelling, bad editing and while the twist was ambitious, it was frozen by its flaws. Some scenes were nicely shot and granted, the film had generated some jumps early on in the film; but it just couldn’t salvage what was left in the film’s gas tank. Too bad its interesting premise wasn’t executed with more credibility and for a psychological thriller meant to make the viewer take it seriously, its only way to be appreciated is not to be taken seriously. Though the filmmakers deliver the film with a straight face, you really don’t have to.