Movie Review – The Vanished Murderer

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EXPECTATIONS: A fun, yet compelling mystery with many shamelessly derivative moments, expected of director Law Chi-leung.

REVIEW: Law Chi-leung has always been a peculiar director. Although he makes polished films, with great production values and commercial polish, he does have one flaw that stands out like a sore thumb. His constant plagiarism of Hollywood works. Whether it is the constant stealing of other people’s musical scores (Koma, Kidnap, The Bullet Vanishes) to even replicating an exact scene (The Bullet Vanishes), Law Chi-leung has the talent, but it seems like he does not trust himself to deliver a fully satisfying film. And now, we have The Vanished Murderer, a sequel to the 2012 hit, The Bullet Vanishes, with Lau Ching-wan and Jiang Yiyan reprising their roles as Inspector Song and Fu Yuan respectively. Is the film a respectable sequel as well as a film that stands on its own merits? Or will it fall to the usual flaws and problems that Law Chi-leung succumbs to?

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The film starts off with a rip-off of The Shawshank Redemption, when Fu Yuan, who was imprisoned in the first film due to murder of her husband, escapes from prison. She is still drawn to Inspector Song and decides to meet him. Inspector Song, being in his position of having feelings for Fu Yuan as well as his civic duty, decides to arrest Fu Yuan. She surprisingly accepts her fate but as he is about to cuff her, a man suddenly falls out of the night sky to his death and Fu Yuan disappears. Clearly, this is more than just coincidence but what is the reasoning for Fu Yuan leading him to this caase? Inspector Song teams up with his petulant childhood sweetheart (Li Xiaolu) to find out who the vanished murderer (or murderers) are. Potential culprits include dopey cop Mao Jin (Rhydian Vaughan), cancer-inflicted morphine addict Professor Hua (Gordon Lam), whom he had a relationship with Fu Yuan as well as the big easy (or easys?), Gao Minxiong, a corrupt businessman the victim had protested before he died, and his son, who also happens to be in shady dealings.

The film starts off with a rip-off of The Shawshank Redemption, when Fu Yuan, who was imprisoned in the first film due to murder of her husband, escapes from prison. She is still drawn to Inspector Song and decides to meet him. Inspector Song, being in his position of having feelings for Fu Yuan as well as his civic duty, decides to arrest Fu Yuan. She surprisingly accepts her fate but as he is about to cuff her, a man suddenly falls out of the night sky to his death and Fu Yuan disappears. Clearly, this is more than just coincidence but what is the reasoning for Fu Yuan leading him to this caase? Inspector Song teams up with his petulant childhood sweetheart (Li Xiaolu) to find out who the vanished murderer (or murderers) are. Potential culprits include dopey cop Mao Jin (Rhydian Vaughan), cancer-inflicted morphine addict Professor Hua (Gordon Lam), whom he had a relationship with Fu Yuan as well as the big easy (or easys?), Gao Minxiong, a corrupt businessman the victim had protested before he died, and his son, who also happens to be in shady dealings.

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If you are thinking that this story sounds quite convoluted, don’t worry. It gets worse. If there’s one thing to get out of the way before viewing this film, it is suspension of disbelief. In other words, lack of logic. The Vanished Murderer has no logic whatsoever. Plot holes are everywhere and the story is jam-packed with details that the storytelling is incredibly frenetic that if you even blink while watching, you would probably miss a plot point. Not to mention the pointless subplots involving hypnosis. And also, the villain himself (Or herself? Or themselves?). The film-makers spell out the villain(s) with the subtlety of a sledgehammer but their motive does not make sense, like the film itself. Even the involvement of Inspector Song in this case makes no sense and how he was ensnared into the nefarious plot. How could he be all part of the plan unless his involvement had something to contribute to the plan?  It would have made more sense if the character of Fu Yuan was the lead of this movie. My head hurts at even the thought of analysing the story, let alone actually doing it right here in this review. To be honest, it almost feels like the film is in service of its political statements than the story itself. There is a scene in the film that involves workers fighting back against the system that could not be more blatant, insistent and metaphoric of current problems of Hong Kong and China if the film’s shelf life depended on it.

So why, in plu-perfect hell, do I not hate this film?  There are so many details in the film that are just random in inclusion and execution that it actually does entertain. For example, Inspector Song apparently has the ability to communicate with horses. I am not kidding, and it culminates into an action set-piece that involves cops chasing Song and Fu Yuan on a horse and leading to a scene ripped off from the 2013 Korean blockbuster, The Berlin File. But the set-piece entertains due to its sheer ridiculousness and the actors playing it straight. Speaking of set-pieces, the same goes for the climax on a speeding train. Never has a hat been used on film that made me laugh cheerfully than it has been used in this film. Even the musical score by Chan Kwong-wing (which is partly stolen from The Mist/Legend of the Guardians and Leon: The Professional) is surprisingly catchy and adds to the overall fun of the film. It actually had me whistling the tune days after I watched the film. It is this type of playfulness that makes the film more entertaining than it has any right to be. And despite the messy storytelling, the production values are great. Alongside the musical score, the special effects, the cinematography, the lighting, the set design and costumes all look great and are consistent with the time-frame of the first film.

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The main actors certainly help the proceedings and even add some emotion that really should not work in a film as slipshod as this. Lau Ching-wan is not as quirky as he was in the first film, but it is a good decision since the film itself really compensates for it. He is still compelling though and the same goes for Jiang Yiyan, whose enigmatic and alluring presence is still a highlight in the two films. The chemistry between the two is still present and actually grounds the film quite a bit despite the flaws mentioned earlier. Li Xiaolu, famous for her acting debut in Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, is also a welcome addition simply because she provides an amusingly cute contrast to the other serious performances, minus Chinese-Tom Cruise doppelganger Rhydian Vaughan, who is just plain dopey. The rest of the cast are fine, if unimpressive, in their performances, although Pauline Suen stands out just for her appearance alone.

Whether you will enjoy The Vanished Murderer depends wholly on your view on the “half-empty, half-full glass” analogy. You have a film that has many playful details, good performances and great production values. But you also have a film that has numerous plot holes, absolutely no logic, many moments of film plagiarism/needless subplots and a political agenda that is delivered without restraint. If you can ignore the latter factors, then you will enjoy The Vanished Murderer. Just don’t give the story any thought. You’ll just give yourself an aneurysm if you do.

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Quickie Review

PROS

The cast give good performances

Great production values

Many entertaining moments and details

CONS

Messy storytelling

Forced political agendas

No sense of logic whatsoever

SCORE: 6/10

Cast: Lau Ching-wan, Jiang Yiyan, Gordon Lam Ka-tung, Lulu Li Xia0-lu, Rhydian Vaughan, Guo Xiao-dong, Pauline Suen Kai-kwan
Director: Law Chi-leung
Screenwriter: Yeung Sin-ling

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