Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Vanished Murderer is an unnecessary film sequel (Film review)

How many prisoners obsessed over going over, through 
The Vanished Murderer (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2015)
- Lo Chi Leung, director and co-scriptwriter (with Yeung Sin Ling)
- Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Guo Xiaodong, Jiang Yiyan, Li Xiaolu, Rhydian Vaughan
Director Lo Chi Leung's filmography includes a children's fantasy romantic comedy in 2005's Bug Me Not! but I think it safe to say that crime-suspense dramas are his first love.  And as the Hong Kong filmmaker openly expressed in an interview around the time that his set-in-1930s-Shanghai crime thriller, The Bullet Vanishes, opened in Hong Kong cinemas, "It's my intention to create a detective series for the Chinese audience." 
Three years on, Lo's got his wish and has that movie's cerebral detective protagonist, Song Donglu (Lau Ching Wan) once more investigating a case involving Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), the remarkably intelligent woman convicted for the murder of her husband.  A candidate to be the titular vanished murderer, she effects a seemingly miraculous escape from a northern Chinese prison.  Assigned to capture her and return to captivity, Song tracks Fu Yuan to a city where deadlier criminals lurk, including a powerful tycoon Gao Minxiang (Guo Xiaodong) whose cruelty appears to be causing a number of his workers to commit suicide.   
The Vanished Murderer starts off on a jaunty, even humorous, note but turn considerably darker soon after we enter Gao's realm.  The first time a gun is fired in the film, the action is played for laughs in a scene introducing a woman he jilted but who's intent on changing his mind (Li Xiaolu).  The second time a gun is fired, it interrupts a potentially romantic scene -- but also results in a man's death.  And several more deaths take place -- some off-screen, others off-screen, a few of which were genuinely unexpected -- before the film's conclusion.
Visually stylish and complexly -- actually, over-convolutedly -- plotted, The Vanished Murderer is one of those films that can be easily seen as containing many socio-political subtexts as well as red herring-filled sub-plots.  It also possesses its share of intriguing supporting characters who aren't quite all that they initially appear.  
For example, what is one to make of Gao's insistence that the suicides are actually murders being carried by a mysterious serial killer, and his hiring Song to track down that individual?  And while Gao may be the most obviously powerful person in the city, two of the people under his employ -- a local police officer (Taiwanese-British actor Rhydian Vaughan) and a philosophy professor (Hong Kong's Gordon Lam Ka Tung) whose students include Gao's callow son -- appear to know quite a bit more than him about what's going on in his supposed sphere of influence.   
Three years after viewing The Bullet Vanishes, I remember having been initially impressed by the film but then feeling sorely let down by its ending.  Not having been left wanting more, I neither expected nor looked forward to seeing a sequel -- and after having viewed The Vanished Murderer, my sense is that it really wouldn't have been much of a loss if there hadn't been one.  For once again, Lo Chi Leung's made a movie that began promisingly but ended up leaving me not truly satisfied. 

My rating for this film: 6.0

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