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Original Title:
Saat yan faan

Hong Kong 2009

Thriller, Mystery, Drama

Roy Chow

Aaron Kwok
Cheung Siu-Fai
Janine Chang Chun-Ning
Josie Ho
Tam Jan-yut
Chin Kar Lok
Wong You-Nam
Chen Kuan Tai
Courtney Wu
Michelle Ye
Dong Yong

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Story: Ling (Aaron Kwok) and his colleagues try to solve a gruesome series of murders. The victims are tortured with a drill and after that are left to bleed to death. One day the police is called to a crime scene where they find the police officer Tai severely wounded. Obviously he has suffered his wounds by the hands of the murderer the police is chasing after. Also being found at the crime scene is Ling who simply has a minor head injury, yet can't remember about anything that happened. Ling's partner Ghost (Cheung Siu-Fai) is the only one who sticks by him, the rest secretly seems to suspect him to be the culprit. Back home his wife Hazel (Chang Chun-Ning) can't give Ling any answers about why he left home the day Tai was attacked either since he actually had the day off. Ling tries to fill the gaps in his memory and solve the murder series case. When there are more victims new evidence falls into his hands but they all point to him as the murderer. Ling is one step away from going insane because even though he can't remember the last few days he knows that he isn't a killer. However, his colleagues will stumble upon the same evidence he found sooner or later and until then he has to track down the real murderer if he doesn't want to get arrested himself.

Review: After the pretty negative critics about "Murderer" there was no need for high expectations anymore, but in the end the movie managed to be a positive surprise. The psychological thriller just knows what to do in order to create an oppressive and frightful atmosphere in which we accompany the police officer on a journey during which he more and more seems to lose his sanity. Added to that the technical conversion as well as the acting achievements, which are among the best you get to see from Hong Kong nowadays, are convincing as well. The really well done movie falls apart after the twist during the last third, however. That's the sad and much talked about topic that really has been written about more than enough, nonetheless it has to be pointed out that despite the massive incredibility of the twist you can still have fun with "Murderer". In fact you "only" have to deal with the thriller suddenly turning into a more phantastic direction.

Interestingly enough the big twist is even to be seen in advance if you pay close attention. You simply have to think of Ling's poisening and the cakes, a connection that you can instantly come up with yourself and there you have the answer to the question, an answer that might seem so unbelievable that you are dismissing it right away which, however, just hits the mark. Maybe this knowledge will help you avoid some frustrating moments? At least I was able, after drawing this conclusion, to have fun even during the finale of the movie. Especially since the actors are apparently giving their best to make it work out. What's especially likeable is Ling's spiral-like descent into madness which constantly makes us wonder whether he is about to make the last step and gets to a point beyond help. Even at the beginning this is a big part of the thrill. The fact that over and over again Ling finds evidence that make only him come into consideration as the killer doesn't just make his nerves be on edge but the viewers' as well.

The tense atmosphere of the film is created by director Roy Cheung for whom this is his debut work. Before that he already worked as an Assisstant Director for Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" and he knows how to create tension with his pictures. Responsible for the cinematography is Lee Ping Bin who worked for "In the Mood for Love" along with Christopher Doyle or shot the pictures for "After this our Exile", which should give a slight idea of the visual quality of the movie. The depressing atmosphere is even more underlined by Shigeru Umebayashi's cello-heavy soundtrack that most of the time also conveys a certain experimental horror that runs through the film. With Christine To there is also everything but a no-name involved in writing the screenplay as she already wrote the stories to "Fearless" or "Secret". The characters are also pretty well-elaborated and apart from a few plot holes there are also several hints that you can follow as a viewer in the hunt for the killer. Only the twist still stands as a serious problem.

What's surprising and seems rather unnecessary at some points is the level of gore in the movie. However, the introduction becomes very effective with the sudden violence and blood and this initial shock also throws us right into the movie. Towards the end the level of gore also seems to be necessary, yet at other points you have to ask yourself if the movie couldn't have been done without it as well. That is because the level of violence also bestows a certain B-movie character upon "Murderer". On the other hand the twist of the movie already achieves that so that this might not carry so much weight after all. Pretty effective, though, is the subtle toying with Ling's mental well-being. We accompany the police officer as he constantly stands at the edge of madness since from a certain point onwards he can't say with certainty anymore that he really isn't the killer himself. Strange things happen and he can't remember a thing, at the same time his colleagues get aware of his odd behavior and are just about to find the same evidence he already has in his hands and simply cannot put it in the right context.

The acting achievements make the movie work out pretty well, too. Aaron Kwok ("After this our Exile", "The Storm Warriors") gives a tense performance, towards the end he is in the overacting department, which on the other hand is also somewhat intended. Chang Chun-Ning as Ling's wife along with Josie Ho brings more drama into the movie and the little Tam Jan-yut proves to be a good child actor. Then there is also Cheung Siu-Fai, of course, as Ling's friend and partner who can keep him grounded in difficult times until he himself is faced with apparently irrefutable evidence. What's happening in the second half and especially in the finale is strong meat and can be captivating just because of that. "Murderer" is therefore an atmospherically tense and enthralling Hong King thriller that simply will go down the drain for many because of the twist. It still seemed a bit odd to me how brutally the film was torn to pieces by critics because of the botched finale. That is because when putting this problem aside there is a lot of good stuff here that you seldomly get to see in Hong Kong cinema nowadays. Maybe the movie simply shouldn't have taken itself so serious with the odd twist awaiting us at the end...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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