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Although the hitman genre isn’t quite as prolific in Asian cinema as it used to be, it’s still pretty popular, if by now looking more than a little overly familiar. Thankfully, as its oddball title suggests, Taiwanese effort “The Killer Who Never Kills” attempts to add something a little different to the usual formula of moody, self-reflective assassins trying to escape the game, mixing in a variety of elements to spice things up. Based on a popular novel by Giddens (who also wrote and directed the hit “You Are the Apple of My Eye”), the film was directed by Jimmy Wan (“Lover’s Discourse”) and the bizarrely named music video director @pple (real name Li Feng Bo), and features singer Jam Hsiao in the lead, with support from a mixture of Hong Kong and Taiwanese talent, including actress Zai Zai Lin (“Taipei Exchanges”), Chrissie Chau (“Marriage with a Liar”), veteran actor Cheung Kwok Chu (“The Drunkard”), former hip hop star Jeffrey Huang and Ma Nian Xian (also in the mega hit “Cape No.7”), with the ever dependable Eric Tsang also putting in an appearance as well as producing.
Jam Hsiao plays Ouyang Bonsai, a young man introduced into the profession of hitman by his uncle Tricky (Eric Tsang), who sets him up to do a series of jobs for slightly psycho mobster Jeff (Jeffrey Huang), known in the underground as Stern Buddha. Unfortunately, the rather nice lad find himself quite unable to kill his targets, not least since most of them seem to have been marked for death for the most innocuous of reasons, and instead ends up faking their deaths and helping them disappear. Things are going pretty well, with him and his team of wacky helpers (Chrissie Chau, Cheung Kwok Chu and Ma Nian Xian) managing to earn some money on the side, until things get complicated after Ouyang falls for one of his targets, a club girl called Xiao Li (Zai Zai Lin) who has managed to incur Stern Buddha’s random wrath.
“The Killer Who Never Kills” makes it clear from the start that it’s a light hearted caper rather than anything too angst-ridden or gritty, with an amiable voice over narration from Ouyang Bonsai as he takes the viewer through the beginnings of his unlikely career. Jimmy Wan and @pple do a pretty good job in this respect, achieving a playful feel throughout, with some decent slapstick scenes and eccentric characters making for a respectable amount of low key laughs. The plot is similarly inoffensive and has a sort of vague cleverness to it, and though everything comes together in suspiciously contrived fashion, as piece of popcorn cinema the film is effective enough. Wan and @pple have the good sense to throw in a few flashes of action and violence along the way, and although the film never has enough gritty moments to allow it to be taken seriously, it definitely benefits from avoiding any gratuitous melodrama.
The film was quite obviously crafted as a vehicle for Jam Hsiao, who shot to fame on the Taiwanese Idol type television program “One Million Star” – predictably, several references to his singing are worked into the script, as well as the inevitable nods to genre favourite “Leon”. Thankfully, he’s reasonable enough in the lead, and although not really strong enough to carry the film, he manages to make his faux killer an affable fellow, even if he does basically seem to be playing himself – winning a nomination for Best New Performer at the 2012 Hong Kong Film Awards in the process. The rest of the cast pick up the slack and help to keep things mildly engaging, with Zai Zai Lin cute and charismatic in the usual love interest role, Jeffrey Huang amusing as the pointlessly nasty villain, and Chrissie Chau, Cheung Kwok Chu and Ma Nian Xian all adding eye candy and a few laughs respectively.
Whilst nothing terribly special or memorable, “The Killer Who Never Kills” is an entertaining and slick effort that offers up an hour and forty minutes of decidedly non-taxing fun. Likely to appeal predominantly to fans of Jam Hsiao, there’s enough going on here to make the film enjoyable for general audiences.
Jimmy Wan, @pple (director) / Giddens Ko (screenplay)
CAST: Jam Hsiao … Trevor Ou
Zai Zai Lin … Grace
Cheung Kwok Chu
Ma Nian Xian