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Sheep Without a Shepherd - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Wu Sha

China 2019

Thriller, Drama

Sam Quah

Xiao Yang
Tan Zhuo
Joan Chen
Philip Keung
Paul Chun
Shih Ming-Shuai
Audrey Hui
Zhang Xiran
Bian Tian Yang

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Sheep Without a Shepherd

Sheep Without a Shepherd - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Lee Weijie (Xiao Yang), his wife Ayu (Tan Zhuo) and their two children live in Thailand. Weijie owns an Internet service provider shop and likes to brag about how many movies he has seen and that he could easily solve crimes despite his lack of school education. His daughter Pingping (Audrey Hui), who has been emotionally distant from her father for a while now, then goes to a learning camp for a few days, where she gets drugged and raped by the police chief's son. The perpetrator wants to see her again the next day and threatens to publish the video he recorded on his cell phone. Pingping's mother notices that something is wrong with her daughter and talks with her. Since Weijie is on a small business trip, she meets up with the rapist and confronts him. It comes to a fight during which Pinging accidently kills the boy. The mother opens one of the graves at the nearby cemetery and puts the dead body in it. Unfortunately, the younger daughter also sees this. When Weijie comes home and hears about what happened, he gathers all his movie knowledge and tries to create the perfect alibi for the family. But police chief Laoorn (Joan Chen) has a widely feared intuition, and she is doing everything she can to find her son, who has suddenly disappeared. The father, Dutpon (Philipp Keung), who is in the middle of an election campaign, is also a dangerous opponent against whom Weijie and his family have little chance.

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Review: China has a good portion of Indian movies screening at its cinemas. So why not give an Indian thriller drama a remake treatment? That's exactly what filmmakers did with "Drishyam" and they moved the story to Thailand. Why Thailand? The movie is about police brutality, the abuse of power and people revolting - themes that would never have gotten past Chinese censorship authorities had the movie taken place in China. So, you have to come to terms with the fact that the movie is set in Thailand, while all those involved speak Chinese, for whatever reason. You also have to criticize that the images of Thailand often have that typical dirty yellow tint, like almost every other movie portraying the country. Surprisingly, the story itself is written quite smart for a movie of this genre, but for the same reason, it could have gone a little deeper.

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Basically, the movie is about two families from opposing social classes who clash with each other. The arbitrariness of the police is portrayed as the social evil of the country already pretty early in the movie. So, the family can definitely not just report the unintentional murder of the police chief's son without ending up in prison themselves for the rest of their lives, even though the crime actually originated from the son himself. In this respect, it is astonishing how pragmatic the family deals with the rape. Trauma looks differently, even if the daughter was drugged while the deed happened. Audrey Hui's lack of expertise as an actress is also to blame for that unrealistic element. And that's a pity, because the rest of the cast is actually great. Xiao Yang can surpass himself as a father who gets the chance to prove his prediction at the beginning of the movie that he had seen so many flicks that he could easily solve crimes himself. Only that now, he has to do it the other way around: he needs to create the perfect alibi.

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The father then actually makes use of several movies of the genre. First, he analyzes "The Shawshank Redemption", but later Weijie turns to other crime movies and thrillers, especially the Korean thriller "Montage". Montages are a form of abbreviation and illusion that provide exactly what the father needs. Watching him trying to create the perfect alibi, even though he didn't even go to elementary school, which is why the police chief underestimates him, is extremely entertaining and is implemented in a gripping way. Acting-wise, Xiao Yang performs on a high level and is supported by Tan Zhuo ("Dying to Survive") who, as a mother and with her very emotional behavior, often poses a risk to the plan. This family, which is otherwise pretty normal, finds itself in an extreme situation and fights for survival. That is particularly gripping because it is not a fight against a murderer, but against an authoritarian entity.

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This authority is embodied by Joan Chen, who steals everybody else the show. The police chief is ice-cold, intelligent, but at the same time she is also a mother who desperately wants to find her son. A dangerous mixture. Here it stands out positively that her motives are quite understandable, and that she is not just a flat character written as the typical villain. The story itself is supposed to stay close to the original, although the director added some local color with Thai boxing and temples featured. The events fit together beautifully, and suspense is created especially by the fact that, despite all his efforts, the father cannot possibly take all factors into account, so that his plan is always in danger of falling apart. At the same time, the clues are clearly scattered across the movie, so that the attentive viewer will hardly be surprised by some revelations. This especially is the case with one scene at a cemetery, in which the atmosphere and the images are clearly meant to push the suspense to the extreme.

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Nevertheless, "Sheep without a Sheperd" is an incredibly captivating movie, it is well-written and features a good cast. However, China once more proves to be quite rigid when it comes to certain moral issues. The movie's ending is therefore pretty disappointing, while, according to my research, the original apparently offers more in this respect. In addition, the scene after the end credits, which is supposed to bring everything full circle, is quite strange. It is almost clear that director Sam Quah wanted to take a bolder direction in his debut work. The police targeting an apparently innocent family causes a lot of demonstrations on the streets, and the scale of these demonstrations has almost something epic to it. So, the finale could actually have been quite impressive if it hadn't been fizzled out into something insignificant because of Chinese censorship. Apart from that, the movie is still an excellent thriller that you shouldn't miss out on.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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