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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

The Audience as Victim — MURDERER

Aaron’s Review

Aaron Kwok’s reaction to Murderer’s script.

Murderer is the kind of film that makes me both relish and regret my position as a movie reviewer. For those of you who’ve seen this turkey of a film, “relish” might be an easy reaction to understand, thinking that I would love, love, love to mock this movie. But “regret”? Maybe you’d think I mean that in terms of regretting to have to sit through it, but that’s not what I mean by “regret” at all.

While I recognize some films are work-for-hire/totally commercial enterprises, I would hope that most movies are labors of love for the filmmakers involved. Why dedicate a good chunk of your life to something you don’t feel strongly about? Why even bother? A quick glance at the “Making of” Featurette included on the Murderer DVD confirms that director Roy Chow (not to be confused with Rey Chow), writer Christine To, and two-time Golden Horse winner Aaron Kwok devoted countless hours to preparing for this movie.

And after all that hard work, here I come — the snobby film critic — ready to pan their precious creation into oblivion. To tell you the truth, I actually don’t like being in that position. Writing reviews is sometimes difficult, but negative movie reviews are probably some of the easiest reviews to write, as it’s fairly easy to list all the ways you didn’t like a given film. But with that “passion” there’s also the potential to be just plain catty or unnecessarily personal in a review, and I really try to avoid that. I haven’t been perfect; there are plenty of reviews where I’m just a little too snarky, but otherwise, I do try my best to stick to the film at hand.

Anyway, it’s been over a year since the movie was released in theaters, but since most people outside of Hong Kong haven’t necessarily seen Murderer or even heard about it, I have to be careful about spoilers. For those of you who do not want to be spoiled about the plot, continue no further. Some would say that you need to come into the film totally unspoiled to appreciate the twist, but I went in having a somewhat vague notion (Kevin told me, but I forgot the details) and it wasn’t a problem. Actually witnessing the scene play out was nothing less than breathtaking. I’m not kidding. So, for those of you who’ve seen the film and for those of you who haven’t but would like to be spoiled, please feel free to follow me down the rabbit hole…

In the movie Murderer, Aaron Kwok plays a cop named Ling who wakes up in an apartment complex with a bad case of amnesia. Making matters worse, another cop named Tai (Chen Kuan-Tai) lays comatose in a hospital after being tossed from the seventh floor of that  very same apartment building. It seems Ling had been tracking a serial killer, but he can’t remember much about anything, including the original investigation. As he tries to return to active duty, Ling gets the nagging sense that his colleagues don’t trust him anymore. And really, it’s pretty obvious that the whole experience has left the poor bastard more than a little unbalanced, which is understandable considering that all the clues in the murder case are leading right back to him. So is Ling the killer or is he being framed? Is he going to save his wife and his adopted five-year-old son or wipe them out? Inquiring minds want to know.

Before I get to the film’s big twist, let me say that before it goes down, Murderer hadn’t actually been a very good movie. After a gory opening sequence that made me glad I picked broccoli beef over sweet and sour pork as my meal, the film fails to live up to that shocking opening. Don’t get me wrong, Murderer looks great, has some nice acting turns, some quality music (In the Mood for Love’s Shigeru Umebayashi!), and events of interest do happen, but for a mystery film, the detective’s investigatory skills seem a bit lacking.  For the most part, incriminating things just keep happening to Ling, but he doesn’t do much detecting. Like our protagonist, we as the audience just seem to be waiting around for the climax to kick in rather than actively trying to decipher just what the hell is going on

But it doesn’t matter. The film doesn’t really play fair with the mystery. Guess who the murderer is?

If you said “Aaron Kwok’s adopted son” give yourself a pat on the back because I don’t know how the hell you could figure that one out. Sure, the kid acts a little weird in the movie, but nobody would be crazy enough to make a five-year-old the killer in a slasher film.

Well…

Ling’s adopted son isn’t really a kid, he’s actually the man’s forty-year-old half-brother! “No, that’s not true! That’s impossible!” you might say. But as ol’ Sonny explains in a Lex Luthor-eseque bit of exposition (I’m almost certain he cackles at one point!), he has “anti-aging” illness. In other words, he’s the Chinese Gary Coleman.

In an extensive flashback scene, we learn that Ling’s father knocked up Sonny’s mom, but threw them out in the cold when he married Ling’s mother, a rich woman with a nice house. What we learn in Sonny’s long “I’m the evil mastermind!” exposition sequence is an increasingly absurd, harrowing, and darkly hilarious series of events involving poverty, forced prostitution, and child slavery. I know, it sounds horrible. But in context, it’s horribly funny. In a flashback scene to the two brothers’ childhood, we learn that Ling beat the hell out of Sonny (”The Beggar Boy” of the neighborhood) for saying that they were brothers. I believe Ling also shoved some dirt in Sonny’s mouth just for good measure. Turns out Ling ain’t so nice. Oh, and the eventual scene of Sonny plotting his revenge on Ling is absolutely priceless.

The Killer

Mwahahaahahaahah! You fell right into my hands, Aaron Kwok. Oops, I made a doo-doo.

Do you mind if I tell you what’s wrong with the twist? You don’t? Okay, here goes:

1. Unfair Flashback. We don’t learn about the bullying incident until about thirty seconds before Sonny announces his master plan. This information is useless without giving it to us sooner. Of course, we don’t need to know that Ling was the bully, but we do need to know that this incident occurred. We can be left guessing as to who the bully and the bullied person was. In true 1980s slasher movie fashion — Sleepaway Camp comes to mind — I’m convinced that this flashback would have worked better as the film’s prologue. That way, the filmmakers have planted the seed that either “the sins of the past” are returning to haunt Ling (he’s being framed) or, for those who guess that Ling is the bully, they’ll be suspicious that he has already shown signs of being a cruel individual in early childhood (Ling is the killer).

2. It’s the Beggar! Oops, no it’s not! My bad, yo.  I failed to mention earlier the fact that Ling pursues a “Beggar” character who he claims is the real murderer. We are led to believe that a) Ling is right, b) he’s hallucinating, or c) the beggar is perhaps a misunderstood witness to either Ling’s or the killer’s crimes (that could just be my intepretation, however). Curiously, the beggar turns out to be a red herring and the killer. While he’s literally responsible for the “driller killer” murderers, he has nothing to do with Ling and isn’t even the brains behind the operation. He’s just a guy with mental problems who has the exact opposite condition as Sonny — he’s young, but ages rapidly in terms of his physique.

Beggar So

Yep, I did it.

The problem here is that the movie allows Ling and the audience to make the connection between this mysterious beggar and the “bullied beggar boy” of the flashback, only to completely dispel that hypothesis within mere seconds of providing us with it. As soon as Ling thinks, “Hey, the beggar is that old beggar boy I used to beat hte crap out of,” Sonny smugly drives up in a tricycle (!) to reveal his true identity and his evil plot in meticulous detail. A smarter film would have had Ling actually act on this information and try to find out the whereabouts of the boy he bullied all those years ago (Shades of Oldboy), perhaps going back to his old neighborhood and talking to the locals, a trail which would eventually lead to a confrontation with his son/brother at movie’s end. It totally defeats the purpose of even having a red herring to explain it away a moment after it becomes a useful dramatic tool.

3) O Brother Where Art Thou? So, a five-year-old boy who looks and talks like a five-year old boy (probably because he’s played by one) turns out to be a forty-year-old bastard. I’m really wondering what Roy Chow and Christine To were thinking here. Their comments in the “making of” featurette don’t seem to indicate that they were even aware that they were making a trashy, stupid horror film, but instead talk about Murderer as if it were meant to be a serious exploration of the human psyche. My only guess is that everything must have read better in the screenplay. I mean, in a novel, a skilled thriller author just might have been able to pull off this insane plot twist. Indicating that the boy’s voice and his physicality changed when he finally dropped the kid act might convince a willing reader, but when it comes to shooting a cute little kid cackling maniacally and adorably explaining his master plan for multiple homicides to two-time Golden Horse award-winning actor Aaron Kwok, it must have been a huge wake-up call to the filmmakers at how goddamn silly this whole idea was in the first place. I have to say that I give Aaron Kwok a lot of credit, having to act in these scenes. A certain American movie came out the same year as Murderer and had a similar plot twist, but the evil kid in question was slightly older and it was slightly more believable, or so I hear. In Murderer, the viewer’s suspension of disbelief is atom-bombed in a jaw-dropping scene I won’t soon forget.

 Writer

Oookay, maybe it sounded better on paper.

I mean, think of how mind-numbingly stupid that twist is. For an American analogue, imagine Emmanuel Lewis doing this in a 1980s slasher movie: “It’s not Jason or Freddy, it’s Webster — and this time it’s personal!” Let’s forget that the twist is completely ludicrous. What’s worse is that it creates a villain about whom the  audience has no idea how to feel. Maybe we think Ling should punch Sonny or throw him in the lake, but the fact that we’re looking at a real live kid kind of undermines that desire for violent catharsis.  Still, if Aaron Kwok would have dropkicked that creepy-ass kid, this movie would’ve been immediately elevated to  the level of a true cult classic.

Webster

I killed them. I killed them all!

4. The Movie’s Not Over!  I don’t know what’s more audacious — this mind-blowing twist or the fact that there’s thirty more minutes of story to behold. After Sonny drops that huge bombshell, the film seems to be in shock itself along with Ling, as we watch our hero simply putter around awaiting a final confrontation with his hilariously tiny arch-nemesis. The movie doesn’t recover and neither does the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

A final take…

A less ambitious filmmaker wishing simply to make a competent, well-made thriller would have a) established the childhood incident early, b) used the beggar as a red herring, and c) provided a reveal that was logical or at least ended the film within moments of that reveal. To my mind, the “beggar boy” angle could’ve led in a number of different directions. Perhaps it could have been revealed that  “the beggar boy” enrolled in the police academy to escape poverty and became one of Ling’s colleagues. Perhaps the beggar boy could have died, and it was his sister/brother/uncle’s neighbor’s cousin who was exacting revenge. I mean, an investigation which led to discovering that the beggar boy was dead, but had a surviving sister, who was — ta da! — his wife might’ve been more acceptable than what was presented. It certainly would’ve explained the psychological torture at home (Gaslight anyone?)

But no, Ray Chow and Christine To were much too ambitious for that. Maybe I shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. To paraphrase Sonny’s words, “Nobody forced them. They were given a choice.” And they chose poorly.

Director

Yeah, I’m a director. What movies have I directed? Uh, well my next project is…

When all is said and done, Murderer serves as a prime piece of evidence as to why a ratings system might not always work out too well for LoveHKFilm.com. This is an undeniably bad movie, and yet, I’m going to recommend it.

What? Why on earth would I do that?

Well, Aaron Kwok’s acting is — no joke –  a sight to behold. The man goes from furtive to feverish to absolutely %$^&-ing insane. He’s bringing the “super acting,” as Kozo says in his review. And I do admire the man’s commitment.

I mean, just to act with a five-year-old kid spouting off the most ridiculous things ad nauseum is an acting challenge in itself. And oh man, what a twist! As the saying goes, it has to be seen to be believed. In fact, you need to own this movie and show that sequence to all your friends. I’m serious. This movie will leave you awestruck.

Aaargh

Support Hong Kong filmmakers with totally insane ideas by buying the DVD from Yesasia here. Or else. Poor Aaron had to go through a lot, folks.

9 Responses to “The Audience as Victim — MURDERER”

  1. TheGoldenRock Says:

    Your suggestions certainly might’ve made the film better, and it would’ve had a better chance at selling the ludicrous twist.

    Question: The theatrical version of the film actually featured the kid in a changed voice to indicate that he is in his “evil, 40-year-old” mode. Is that the same in the DVD version, or did they just keep the kid’s voice?

  2. Calvin Says:

    While the dialogue looked like it was looped — there’s no way that kid could keep talking about his character’s evil machinations without forgetting his lines — the voice sounded like it was (or was meant to be) a child’s. I don’t know if it was the child actor’s voice or someone else’s.

    EDIT: Corrected a bunch of typos in the original post. Man, I need an editor.

  3. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    MURDERER is AWESOME for all the wrong reasons. Comedy of the year, bar none.

  4. darren Says:

    Trying not to laugh out loud at work while reading your blog…the movies definitely a classic…for all the wrong reasons

  5. mike Says:

    great review. says everything i was thinking about the film. murderer really should be seen. it falls in the so good its bad category and might even be better than showgirls. btw, the film youre talking about is orphan and it was WAY better. im not even comparing it to murderer although the filmmakers of murderer should watch Orphan to see how it’s done. it makes their talent look amateurish in comparison.

  6. Lo Sconosciuto Says:

    While both MURDERER and ORPHAN (BTW, it totally takes the pipe too) are bamboo-under-the-fingernails bad, and some embarrassed entertainment can be gleaned from them, I still have the feeling that end of my days, I will regret the time I spent watching this folderol.

  7. RONIN ON EMPTY Says:

    […] (who the hell would want to watch THIS?) — as was the case with Imprint. I know I made fun of Murderer in a recent blog post, but I was really more baffled about how all the major players involved with […]

  8. headscratcher Says:

    Think the movie would have worked better had, in the final reckoning, the ‘bullied beggar boy’ turned out to be a figment of Ling’s imagination (madness) after all. I still found the ‘old beggar’ implausible despite the lengthy denouncement-flashback segment, since the plot had Ling knocking him out in the subsequent showdown yet the suddenly-arriving police apparently never ‘found’ his body…

  9. Calvin McMillin Says:

    I agree; the “old beggar” actually being real was hard to swallow, but then again, so was the entire premise!

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