Saturday, November 11, 2023

Last Suspect

The last big Chinese movie released around here, Under the Light was directed by Zhang Yimou, and Last Suspect is directed by his daughter, Zhang Mo. I ask you, my friends - is communism not supposed to prevent this sort of thing? Certainly, it's not out of the realm of the possibility that two of the five hundred or so people in a nation of one and a half billion best suited to direct films released in a given year would be father and daughter - coincidences happen! - but is it likely? Especially when you see that the father is in many ways a legend and the daughter is not exactly at his level?

The somewhat interesting thing about the father/daughter angle is that Zhang Yimou was often seen as making art-house films with an eye to an international audience and eventually made a couple for American studios that were straight-up looking to be pan-Pacific hits, and Zhang Mo has made a pretty Western film here as well - as I mention in the main review, it feels like a certain variety of Hollywood thriller that used to be more prominent at the box office, and I suspect the courtroom scenes aren't particularly Chinese, even beyond how much of the signage is in English. She went to film school in New York City, so one wonders how much of the culture and tropes she soaked up.

It also means, amusingly, that she's credited with the English subtitles for the film, and I wonder how many other filmmakers are given that opportunity to oversee a foreign-language version of their work so closely.

Zheng jiu xian yi ren (Last Suspect aka Who's the Suspect?)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2023 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

It seems like Ashley Judd used to star in a movie like this every week, and now we've got to import them from China. A sad state of affairs, Hollywood. Not that this sort of film is usually particularly noteworthy or likely to hit anybody's top ten lists at the end of the year, but it's the sort of thing that people enjoy seeing or reading, and this delivers the good reasonably well.

This one quickly introduces Vicky Chen (Zhang Xiaofei), a top attorney in the city of Kuapuar who has a string of 30 successful criminal defenses, many against prosecutor Cui Myung-ji (Liu Huan), which keeps her busy enough that her eight-year-old daughter Eng (Wang Yixuan) sometimes feels neglected. On the other hand, when Eng is abducted during her school's field day, Vicky throws herself into the kidnapper's demands to defend Daniel Cek Khas (Eason Hung Junjia), who has appealed his death sentence for the murder of Rebecca Liang Xinyuan (Bao Shang'en). The trial begins in five days, and she's fortunate that her old friend Kim Ji-woong (Lee Hong-Chi) has a well-timed suspension from the police force to help her dig, but someone seems to want alternate suspect Jimmy Ahmad (Boogie Wang Ziyi) kept clear as badly as Eng's kidnapper wants Daniel exonerated.

Last Suspect is, as such things often are, not bad, the sort of mystery thriller that sort of cranks along despite not really having any characters that are defined well enough to be suspects or enough alternatives that Vicky and Kim have to eliminate them. It puts a premium on the protagonists running after something well - in this case, the film goes out of its way to establish that both Vicky and Kim are well-equipped to keep a foot pursuit close - or looking kind of worn out between clues popping up. The process is reasonably enjoyable and smooth, which it has to be, on the way to some courtroom theatrics that make me wonder just where this thing is supposed to be set that the preceding make any sense.

(The credits indicate that much of the film was shot in Macau, though I suspect "Kuapuar" is meant to suggest Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where enough of the population is ethnically Chinese that you don't have to confine action to Chinatown but it likely wouldn't be unusual to see all that English-language signage and a fair amount of conversation done in that language. I'm guessing that legal procedure is thoroughly made-up, though!)

Zhang Xiaofei and Lee Hong-Chi are good enough at all of that to keep things moving, hitting the spot where they both seem capable but also stressed and potentially in over their heads. The film is stocked with similarly well-cast characters - Eason Hung makes Daniel feel railroaded but also like a guy a jury would be inclined to convict; Boogie Wang projects the sort of spoiled smarm that would crack quickly under pressure. Liu Huan and Ken Tong Chun-Yip certainly feel like they could be regular courtroom nemeses to Vicky if we had a whole series of these cases. Kara Wai Ying-Hung makes a good, solid impression as the victim's grieving mother.

The story kind of hits a paradox where five days seems on the one hand like an absurdly short time to prepare for this sort of trial but also a long time for this sort of hostage situation to go on, and director Zhang Mo does her best to try and use various action bits to inject enough adrenaline into the whole thing that a viewer's heart might race enough that they don't look at what's going on too closely or gripe over what's being kept off-screen to preserve later twists. It is, after all, the sort of movie that has bonus crazy when it seems like everything has been laid out at the end, but the half-dozen or so writers quite manage to make that work, especially when they flash back and say that, despite the insanity it just served, there's also some sense (but there's really not). The last bits have some weird sympathies on display as well, working hard to show one character as kind immediately after establishing derangement and doing very little to flesh Rebecca out in flashback - the movie talks a good game about how she was a complicated, interesting person but has little time for her as a character aside from the carefully laying out the details of her being drugged, raped, and murdered.

Still, there's some undeniable fun to the last-actg reversals and increasingly unlikely explanations of how they happened. You kind of appreciate that sort of thing after an hour and a half of basically doing what this sort of movie is supposed to do, even if the whole of the story barely survives sitting through the credits.

1 comment:

Arty Dans said...

2.5 stars out of 4 is far too generous. This movie was terrible in every possible way, and Yimou's daughter should never helm another thriller again.