One of the eternal cinematic debates is to whether or not a film can truly be so bad that it actually becomes good. For most connoisseurs of trash film, or of high camp excess, the question is largely irrelevant, with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ being wholly interchangeable labels, and with entertainment factor being all important. This is certainly the case with “Murderer”, which in these terms is a great, great film, showing the kind of unfettered lunatic genius rarely seen in these days of playing things safe.
Starring the award winning actor Aaron Kwok in the lead role, the film was directed by Roy Chow, here making his debut after working on “Lust, Caution” with Ang Lee. Hilariously overwrought and featuring one of the all time great bizarre third act twists, its easy to see why “Murderer” has been one of the most controversial and talked about films from Hong Kong of the year, as it really does need to be seen to be believed – and even then, some viewers may find themselves questioning their own eyes, or indeed the sanity of Chow and Kwok.
The film opens as a vicious electric power drill wielding serial killer claims his latest victim, a cop called Tai (Shaw Brothers star Chen Kuan Tai, who featured in classics like “The Blood Brothers” and “Executioners from Shaolin”), hurling him off a building and leaving him in a coma. Strangely, his colleague Ling (Aaron Kwok, recently superb in “After this our Exile”) who was also at the scene, only receives a beating, which causes him to lose his short term memory – quite understandably making him the prime suspect. Desperate to prove his innocence, Ling attempts to hunt down the real killer, who seems to have taken an unhealthy interest in his life and family.
Oddly enough, “Murderer” does start off as a balanced and fairly straightforward mystery. After an intriguing opening, Chow spends a fair amount of time setting the scene and presenting the viewer with the conundrum of having the lead character as both protagonist and the main suspect. Although not exactly Hitchcock, the plot is reasonably gripping, and despite some pacing issues has enough well timed revelations to keep the viewer interested. Chow proves himself to be a competent director, and the film has a suitably lurid look, with some effective use of colours and nicely composed shots.
Visually, the film is stylish without being flashy, and he manages to attain a reasonable amount of tension and a certain air of growing paranoia. Things do get suitably bloody in places, and though not a great deal actually happens during the first half, the film is engrossing enough, with Kwok turning in a decent performance as the increasingly unhinged Ling, that while not in the same league as the emotional subtleties he displayed in “After this our Exile” does at least keep the viewer guessing as to whether he is crazy or not.
Of course, as with any film where the viewer is aware in advance that at some stage there will be a rug-pulling twist, there is a fair amount of fun to be had trying to figure things out and to play detective. However, it is very unlikely indeed that many will see the bizarre shift that occurs just over the halfway mark, which not only turns the film on its head, but kicks it yelling and screaming into the realm of the surreal. However, it is not so much the twist itself which baffles and amuses, but the way in which Chow handles it in such a madly even handed, straight-faced manner, going so far as to throw in explanatory flashbacks and exposition scenes.
This gives the film a wonderfully perverse feel, and the last 45 minutes or so are more than worth the price of admission on their own, featuring some of the most wild and wacky moments in recent Hong Kong cinematic memory. At this stage, Kwok really seems to get into the swing and spirit of things, with his acting taking a similar leap off the deep end, and he, like Chow, deserves full marks for boldness and bravery in the face of logic, common sense and good taste. Indeed, even once all the cards are on the table, the film barely makes any sense, and once the final credits have rolled, many viewers may find themselves wanting to watch the final act again, just to confirm the mind boggling dementia of what they have just witnessed.
To say any more would be to risk ruining the fun, though it is suffice to say that “Murderer” is an absolute must see for all fans of the ridiculously entertaining, or indeed anyone interested in seeing something that might politely be described as being a little different. Films with this kind of mad genius don’t come around too often, and on this score, it certainly stands out as one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
Chow Hin Yeung Roy (director) / Chow Hin Yeung Roy, Chi-long To (screenplay)
CAST: Aaron Kwok … Ling
Chun-Ning Chang … Hazel
Siu-Fai Cheung … Ghost
Kuan Tai Chen … Tai
Kar Lok Chin … Andy
You-Nam Wong … Leo
Josie Ho … Minnie