Monday, November 02, 2015

The Witness

Huh, so this is the limited-release thriller that should have been my first priority this weekend. Good to know that now!

I've got to admit to being very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it, though - part of the reason I pushed it back to Sunday when a Chinese or Korean film getting a day-and-date North American release is usually my Friday night priority is that the trailer didn't look very good (admittedly, the things playing on other screens being more obviously Halloween-y played a part too). Compared to the other Chinese movies that were getting a push in the last few months, it's preview looked the lamest - even A Journey Through Time with Anthony looks like it might be something when the song kicks in - but I suppose that may be the way it is with thrillers. You really don't want to give the whole game away, especially at this scale.

It's worth mentioning that over the past couple of months, new Chinese trailers haven't been replacing the ones that fall off the reel as they're released. I wonder if that's because the awards/holiday season slate is going to be full enough to keep foreign films from having much of a chance of making American screens, despite the fact that there have been some really successful releases in those months. I hope it's just because deals are still being finalized, because I really want to see that sequel to The Bullet Vanishes on the big screen.

Wo shi zheng ren (The Witness)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

It's a sign of how big the Chinese film industry has grown that they are now pulling one of Hollywood's signature tricks - not just remaking a foreign film for the local market, but luring the director there to do so. In this case, that would be South Korean filmmaker Ahn Sang-hoon remaking his 2011 film Blind as "Wo shi zheng ren" ("The Witness" in English-speaking territories), and it's a surprisingly good result. It is kind of minor pulp, but one with the emphasis in the right place.

As it starts, rookie cop Lu Xiaoxing (Yang Mi) is pulling her foster brother Lian Cong (Wayne Liu Rui-lin) off a stage for deceiving their parents about how he is spending his college money, and it goes about as poorly as possible, with Xiaoxing blinded. Three years later, she is in the back of a cab when it strikes a pedestrian, only to have the driver (Zhu Ya-wen) claim it was a dog. Fortunately, Captain Lu (Wang Jing-chun) is inclined to believe her, although even when another witness (Lu Han) comes forward with conflicting information, they don't initially realize that they're on the trail of a potential serial killer.

The filmmakers in general and Yang Mi in particular seem to struggle with how much of the Lu Xiaoxing we see at the start should persist into the rest of the film - she starts out a cocky, sarcastic hardass, and while a fair amount of that stubbornness persists through the rest of the film, what we see about her implies that she should be a world-champion blind lady (to quote Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark) by the time three years have passed, but Yang plays her physicality as far more tentative than her attitude when speaking. It's far from a fatal issue, as Yang mostly keeps Xiaoxing brassy and clever, but it's hard to miss how the title character could have worked a bit better.

Full review on EFC.

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