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Danny Pang, still best known as one half of the brotherly directorial duo responsible for the 2002 hit “The Eye”, takes another shot at recapturing his past form with “Fairy Tale Killer”, which as its title suggests follows the police hunt for a murderer who bases his methods around children’s fables. As with any Pang production, the film is a glossy affair with slick visuals, and this time has a couple of big headlining stars in Lau Ching Wan (“Life Without Principle”) and Wang Baoqiang (“Mr. Tree”), with support from the likes of Elanne Kwong (“Love Lifting”), Elena Kong (“A Simple Life”), Joey Meng (“All About Love”), and ultra prolific Hong Kong character actor Lam Suet (“The Great Magician”).
The film opens with a strange, stammering young man with white face makeup called Ng (Wang Baoqiang) turning up at the police station of Inspector Wong (Lau Ching Wan) and confessing to a murder. After it turns out that his apparent victim is still very much alive, Ng is let go, Wong quite understandably deciding that he has serious mental problems. However, a couple of days later the man really does turn up dead, and as just one of a string of bizarre killings. Wong investigates with his team and gradually uncovers Ng’s strange story and scheme, at the same time trying to cover up the mistake he made in letting Ng go in the first place.
It’s sadly hard to deny that Danny Pang (and indeed his brother Oxide) has been off the boil for a while now, with a great many of his films over the last few years having been of average quality at best. The good news is that whilst “Fairy Tale Killer” isn’t quite a return to the glory days of “The Eye”, it’s certainly a great deal better than other recent outings such as “The Child’s Eye”. On the plus side, the film does have a basically sound and interesting premise, and though the fairy tale murders never get all that creative, its theme of autistic killers is well-handled (if a touch exploitative), and the combination of these two elements does give things a vaguely original feel. Pang is solid as ever as director, the film having a polished and visually impressive look, though thankfully without some of the wacky and overly enthusiastic editing which have made some of his earlier efforts a bit of a headache. The film moves along at a decent pace, with a handful of set pieces and flashes of action here and there, and though there’s nothing too outstanding, the film does hold the interest throughout.
The film is bolstered by some strong work by the cast, with Lau Ching Wan predictably carrying the film on his capable shoulders, and though the material doesn’t exactly stretch his range, he adds a believable humanity to the often unsympathetic Wong. Surprisingly, the film is arguably more successful in its cop and family drama elements than in its crazy murder schemes, Wong’s shifting relationships with his colleagues and autistic son adding depth and a welcome moral greyness. The supporting cast are all on respectable form, Wang Baoqiang just about managing to pull off his difficult and at times bizarre villain role without going too over the top, and this also helps to lift the film up a couple of notches.
The film does have its fair share of flaws, chief amongst which are some rather blatant plot holes, Pang showing a cavalier lack of care when it comes to actually explaining not unimportant parts of the plot – for example as to why Ng turns up in the police station to confess. Pang similarly never provides a satisfying justification for how the homeless and apparently mentally challenged man is able to construct such elaborate and clever traps, in particular his final, expensive looking “Saw” style masterpiece, and this does undermine his potency as a convincing fiend. Possibly due to a need to please the censors, the film is also let down by its shying away from the gory details of most of the killings, which not only sees it pulling its punches, but in some cases makes it quite hard to tell what has happened to Ng’s victims.
Though these faults detract from the overall effectiveness of “Fairy Tale Killer”, it remains an entertaining thriller, and both an above average piece of Hong Kong genre cinema and one of Danny Pang’s more accomplished recent films. Definitely worth checking out for fans with adjusted expectations, it manages to tick most of the right boxes, thanks in no small part to the ever dependable presence of Lau Ching Wan.
Danny Pang (director) / Danny Pang, Kam-Yuen Szeto (screenplay)
CAST: Ching Wan Lau
Ken Lo Ken Lo
Ying Kwan Lok