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Aaron Kwok and Eddie Cheung look for the Murderer.
Chinese: 殺人犯
Year: 2009
Director: Roy Chow Hin-Yeung
Writer: Christine To Chi-Long
Action: Chin Kar-Lok

Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Janine Chang, Coleman Tam Chun-Yat, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chin Kar-Lok, Wong Yau-Nam, Michelle Ye, Teddy Lin Chun, Dong Yong, Yue Ka-Lun, Wong Wai-Fai, Chan Man-Ching

The Skinny: Despite a decent start, this serial killer thriller is the year's most surprising and also funniest Hong Kong film. Intolerable if you're looking for the next Seven, but undeniably amusing if spectacularly bad cinema is your thing. Hey, just because the filmmakers took Murderer seriously doesn't mean that you have to.
by Kozo:
Beware spoilers for Murderer because they'll ruin the unintentional fun. A rollercoaster ride filled with entirely inappropriate emotions, Murderer was co-produced by Hong Kong-based Edko Pictures and US-based Focus Films, among others. First-timer Roy Chow Hin-Yeung directs, and what's the connection between this bunch? Simple, they all worked with Ang Lee on a little movie called Lust, Caution. Ang Lee is also given a "special thanks" credit in Murderer, and the film crew is full of distinguished and talented professionals. Cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Ban, art director Man Lim-Chung and composer Shigeru Umebayashi all lend their skills, and screenwriter Christine To last gave us Jay Chou's overwrought but very effective Secret. The star is two-time Golden Horse Winner Aaron Kwok. As complete cinema packages go, this is one the year's most attractive.

So, what happened? At first glance, Murderer screams quality and the filmmakers back that up by mounting this psychological murder mystery in a suspenseful if needlessly drawn-out manner. Technical credits are fine, with the look and sound of the film ranking at the top of 2009's locally-produced productions. However, the story is a big question mark, possessing of an intriguing premise but also shallow development, some gaping plot holes, and a third act plot reveal that sends the entire movie careening off a cliff. In trying to shock its audience, Murderer achieves a disturbing level of credibility-busting camp, combining overdone histrionics, mind-blowing plot twists, poor storytelling, and a series of emotions including but not limited to disbelief, dismay and possibly even awe. Regardless of the filmmakers' success or failure here, their bravery and/or lack of self-restraint deserves a salute.

The bare bones plot: some evil bastard is out there bleeding innocent people to death with a power drill, and the latest victim is cop Tai (Chen Kuan-Tai), who's drained of blood and tossed from the seventh floor of an apartment complex. The cops are doubly pissed because the number one suspect is Ling (Aaron Kwok), a respected officer found at the scene with no memory of why he was even there. With Tai in a coma, Ling must piece together the mystery, but what he discovers is that all the evidence points to himself as being the diabolical driller. Was he a grisly serial killer before losing his memory? Or is he being elaborately framed by someone who has the keys to his house, his past and even his psyche? As the evidence mounts against him, Ling begins to insist that it must be the latter, his duty as a cop taking second priority to his increasingly unhinged need for self-preservation. Unfortunately, convincing everyone else of his innocence may be next to impossible.

At this point, Murderer is intriguing and not truly objectionable. Then…IT ALL GOES TO HELL, for the characters, the audience, and possibly the notion of international-quality Hong Kong filmmaking. Hong Kong Cinema has long been known for its chutzpah, mixing genres and changing directions frequently, unabashed in its desire to take audiences for a ride. However, that was back during the wild eighties and nineties, when heightened emotions, breakneck pacing and over-the-top action were as commonplace as dimpled ingenues and floppy hairstyles. Had Murderer been produced with that same anything-goes style then perhaps its excesses would be tolerable, if not enjoyable and pleasingly trashy. However, Murderer supposes quality with its ace production values, deliberate pacing, serious emotions and ardent attempts at award-worthy acting. For a good portion of the running time, Roy Chow seems to be putting together a competent if uninspired commercial thriller, and his actors try their hardest to convey the dark, potentially nihilistic situations.

However, the film starts to unravel. Plot holes quietly appear before yawning wide, the tension goes from thick to amusing, characters (and indeed, the entire police force) start to act unconvincingly, and the acting becomes comically pronounced and overwrought. Chow's direction starts solid but soon becomes a grind, moving too deliberately to seem organic or thrilling. There are a few effective jolts; Chow has a good handle on cinematic scares, effectively using framing and pacing to get the audience to jump. His ability to get a rise out of the audience extends to the drama, too - but for completely opposite reasons. The film's storytelling includes some ill-advised choices, not least among them the decision to reveal everything during an expository "speech of evil" that lasts for an eternity. It's during that speech that audience jaws should hit the floor, but the shock that registers is not because the reveal is so surprising – though, really, only the most cynical filmgoers should see it coming. In all likelihood, most audiences will simply be shocked that the filmmakers actually thought that their elaborate plot reveal would convince.

Murderer's biggest reveal is also the moment when the film jumps the shark, abandoning all hope of winning over its audience while it flirts with new heights of hilarity. Ridiculous details are delivered fast and furiously, and Aaron Kwok's acting goes from smolderingly tense to brimming-with-madness unhinged. Kwok's recent cred as an actor shouldn't be diminished by what he attempts in Murderer, because what he's doing here isn't acting, it's super acting. His performance is measured but ultimately becomes totally out there, and it's done in such a precise and purposeful fashion that it could be studied by future generations of popstar thespians as some sort of deliberate performance meltdown. Murderer goes from OK to bad to bad so forcefully that it invites an instant audience reaction, making it one of the most surprising and probably memorable cinema experiences currently out there. Granted, it may be talked about for all for the wrong reasons, but sometimes it's entertaining when a movie takes an epic nosedive. The filmmakers, studios and industry shouldn't be happy, but audiences with a hankering for spectacular trash? Murderer is there for them. (Kozo 2009)


• Kevin Ma's opinion of Murderer can be found here.

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 6.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image credit: Edko Films Copyright ©2002-2015 Ross Chen