The credentials attached to this production is somewhat stellar, and I got to admit I was hooked by the trailer, which stylishly promised something of quality hidden behind the very obvious red herrings thrown around. Lensed by Lee Pin Bing and starring Aaron Kwok, whom I've grown to admire his choice of projects which highlight his developing credibility as a serious actor, this film started off strong, but ended with an unsatisfying, weakened whimper in a schizophrenic manner.
Unlike C+ Detective, which also recently starred Kwok in a cop role, and one which I had enjoyed and came with a number of surprises, Murderer got let down by the chief factor in direction and vision. While some may point the blame squarely at the story, I thought it was something that could be forgiven, since it needed something quite ludicrous to pull off that sense of disbelief that would drive Kwok's Chief Inspector Ling totally nuts, and make everyone roll their eyes if he were to tell the truth. And what more than to make his character morally ambiguous as well, not a squeaky clean do-gooder boy scout, with that shade of grey that hovers around even the best amongst us.
The film started off literally with a bang, where we can rudely interrupted with a man who had fallen from great heights, and coupled with a bone-crunching impact. A cop is found at the foot of a block, barely alive, and on the upper floors lie Ling, completely dazed. When Ling wakes up, he suffers from memory loss, locking inside his subconscious some very vital clues to a serial killer whom his team had been investigating. A Memento-ish premise has been set, and you're primed for a thrilling ride, complete with complementary scenes of blood, gore and shocking quick edits.
Naturally he becomes a suspect, and kudos to the story though in throwing up scenarios that all point toward him, from the murder weapon and location of macabre killings right down to irrefutable evidence that firmly indicates Ling's involvement, one way or another. Aaron Kwok does his best in providing that sense of despair, which on one hand he tries to uncover the truth and the identity of the serial killer, while on the other constantly worrying if he's truly in fact guilty, and through his dubious actions, make you wonder if he's either a Jekyll and Hyde, or just plain poetic justice if he were to be investigating himself.
It developed adequately well up until the half way mark, where until then the story allowed Kwok to run wild with his emotions, showcasing a range that showed why he's a Best Actor award recipient. But alas even Kwok's ace performance failed to make up for director Roy Chow's shortcoming. I felt that while it may be necessary to show hand at the mid way point just who Ling's cunning adversary was, never mind if it could be a tad unbelievable, but the way it was handled was just plain sloppy.
Imagine having to listen to the usual villanous monologue bragging just how smart the plot so far had been, or watch how a sequence of events had happened in order to develop this feeling of vendetta. It tried to redeem itself by occasionally suggesting to you that things may probably not be what it seemed, but instead of opting for a more psychological challenge, it laid everything out on the table verbatim, and failed to continue playing you, the audience, in keeping alive that sliver of hope that the revelation could be something more subtly handled, rather than being so verbatim and shoved down your throat as the truth.
I had even secretly hoped for a dream sequence where one wakes up and finds what had happened was nothing but a figment of imagination - I would be pleased with that development in this movie, so that would indicate to you just how badly handled it all was. And to makes things worse, there's this constant shuffle in the last 10 minutes between psychological drama (too little too late) to blood curdling and spouting moments of gore, and even attempting a Seven to a certain extent, which unfortunately dragged the scene a little too long for that sense of gory impact.
A whole list of supporting cast, such as Cheung Siu Fai, Chin Kar Lok, Josie Ho playing Ling's sister Minnie, and Ning Chang as his wife Hazel, all fail to add any depth to the movie, being rather throwaway characters in this story which had as much potential as 20th Century Boys (with clues that are locked away in the past, and told through flashbacks), but let down by direction, failing to translate something more cerebral without casting a shadow of comedy in its lacklustre execution and delivery.