Murderer -- Film Review

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Bottom Line: A horror-suspense with a head-scratching outcome.

HONG KONG -- In "Murderer," a cop goes after a serial killer who committed grotesque murders, but the leads all point to himself as the major suspect. Why Christine To's ("Secret," "Fearless") script got the green light is probably a bigger mystery than the identity of the murderer itself. So off the mark from human or scientific reason is the plot development, it's hard to take seriously what is otherwise a handsomely mounted production, engaging such respected names as "Lust, Caution" producer Bill Kong, "2046" composer Shigeru Umebayashi and "Three Times" lenser Mark Lee Ping Bin.

The ludicrous twist -- or "unbearable truth," as the official poster advertises -- reportedly had some Hong Kong audiences in unintended stitches. The directorial debut by Ang Lee assistant Roy Chow Hin-Yeung is unlikely to lap up much critical approval but is sure to gather camp cache as a schlock-farce at festival midnight screenings. Focus Features will handle the Stateside release.

The film opens with crushing impact as a human lump hits the ground from a high rise in bloody splatter, then wriggles to stand up despite bones jutting out. This is just a measure of the kind of nauseous and logic-defying shock tactics used throughout the film.

The man who fell is Tai (Chen Kuan Tai), partner of the protagonist Ling (Aaron Kwok). The two were combing a building for traces of a serial killer when Tai was captured. Like the killer's last two victims, an electric drill was used to bore numerous holes into Tai to drain his blood before he was thrown off the building.

While Tai lies in a coma, Ling, who suffered an unexplained head injury, finds he has short term memory loss. When Ling returns home to convalesce, he realizes that he has lost other things -- his electric drill for instance, and two nails later found driven into the fourth victim's eyeballs.

For 80 minutes, the clues that turn up about Ling's connection with the victims, his guilt-ridden family past, and the atmosphere of paranoia that gradually descends on his once affectionate household generally make sense and keep one attentive to the development.

What a disappointment when the revelation turns out to be medical-scientific hokum (think "Don't Look Now" crossed with a travesty of "Benjamin Button."). After that, so many contrivances are thrown in to validate the implausible ending it's as if the killer has applied his drill to the script to produce these glaring plot holes.

As much as the director desired to explore, in his own words, "the complexity of human nature," the moral standpoints of all the characters are rather black-and-white. As the upright elite law enforcer who gradually loses his grip, Kwok's face manages more contortions than acrobats of Cirque du Soleil, but achieves little psychological depth. As Ling's wife and sister, Ning Chang and Josie Ho make the most of their roles' narrow emotional range. In the end, it is child actor Tam Chun-yat who surprises by grasping the many-sided characterization as Ling's adopted son.

Umebayashi's score thankfully goes light on crash-bang sounds while Lee's lensing yields pristine cerulean images of watery locations where a lot of the action takes place. Overall though, camera movements are too conspicuous.

Opened in Hong Kong on July 9 (Focus Features)
Production co.: Focus Features International, Hero Focus Group Limited, Sil-Metro Organization present a The Eastern (HK) Film Production Co., Ltd.
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Ning Chang, Tam Chun Yat, Josie Ho, Cheung Siu-Fai, Chen Kuan Tai
Director: Roy Chow Hin-Yeung
Screenwriter: Christine To
Producers: Bill Kong, Cheung Hong Tat, Chui Po-Chu, Song Dai
Director of photography: Mark Lee Ping Bin
Production designer: Man Lim Chung
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi
Editor: Cheung Ka-Fai
World Sales: Edko Film
No rating, 120 minutes
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