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The Vanished Murderer

Lau Ching-Wan, Gordon Lam, Li Xiaolu and Rhydian Vaughan investigate The Vanished Murderer.
Chinese: 消失的兇手  
Year: 2015
Director: Law Chi-Leung
Producer: Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Mandy Law
Writer: Yeung Sin-Ling
Action: Kenji Tanigaki

Lau Ching-Wan, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Jiang Yiyan, Lulu Li Xiao-Lu, Rhydian Vaughan, Guo Xiao-Dong, Pauline Suen Kai-Kwan

The Skinny: Sequel to The Bullet Vanishes is an entertaining ride – that is, if one can deal with the fact that it’s confusing and makes absolutely no sense. Having Lau Ching-Wan and Jiang Yiyan back is a definite plus, but the rest of the film is a rollercoaster of entertaining highs and befuddling lows. Obviously not as good as its excellent predecessor.
by Kozo:
Director Lo Chi-Leung’s The Vanished Murderer is a sequel to his 2012 action-mystery The Bullet Vanishes – though disappointment may be immediate because one of the stars was unable to return. It should be common knowledge by now, but here’s a Spoiler Warning: Nicholas Tse’s cop Guo Zhui is not in Vanished Murderer because he died in the first film. Noooo, Niiicccc! Luckily, the filmmakers bring back the more interesting Song Donglu (Lau Ching-Wan), the quirky detective who, fairly or not, was seen as a rip-off of Robert Downey Jr.’s take on Sherlock Holmes. Donglu feels less like a Holmes homage in the sequel; Donglu is still quirky and smart, but he trades in a bowler hat for a less-Sherlockian fedora plus the character is simply less strange than he was last time. Having a more normal Donglu is a good move, because the actual filmmaking is so strange that it ends up overcompensating. Still, if you can handle its senselessness, you just might like The Vanished Murderer. I offer no guarantees.

Vanished Murderer begins with a Shawshank Redemption lift as murderess Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), who provided Hannibal Lecter-like counsel to Donglu in the first film, escapes from prison using a spoon, a tunnel and a papered-over wall. Yet, Fu Yuan is still drawn to Donglu and arranges to meet him. Donglu plans to arrest her, and Fu Yuan seems fine with that – until he’s about to cuff her, and then a man suddenly falls out of the sky to his death and Fu Yuan disappears. This isn’t coincidence – Fu Yuan intended for Donglu to see the suicide (Or maybe murder?), and soon Donglu and his new assistant, childhood sweetheart Chang Sheng (Li Xiaolu), are seeking the vanished murderer. Or is it murderers? There’s purportedly someone pulling the strings besides Fu Yuan, and it could be anyone, including sloppy cop Mao Jin (Rhydian Vaughan) or the morphine-addicted Professor Hua (Gordon Lam), who once corresponded with Fu Yuan through the post

However, the key figure is Gao Minxiong (Guo Xiaodong), who the suicide victim was protesting when he died. A corrupt businessman with a private army, Gao once ordered the slaughter of a local village to bump up his bottom line. Someone dear to Fu Yuan was a victim of that massacre, so that’s why she wants Gao to pay. There’s also local unrest; the town’s workforce is unhappy with Gao’s wages and working conditions, and his personal army isn’t popular either. When other workers also start jumping to their deaths, Gao pressures Donglu to find the mastermind while leaving his crimes untouched. But if the mastermind isn’t the missing Fu Yuan, then who is it? Pretty much everyone besides Chang Sheng has a reason to dislike Gao Mingxiong, and how is Fu Yuan able to induce one of these people to somehow induce others to kill themselves, thus making their suicides into murders? And why is this story so convoluted?

Logic is a big problem in Vanished Murderer. Plot holes exist everywhere, from Fu Yuan’s prison escape to her elaborate scheme. The character relationships do make sense in a utilitarian fashion, but the plot is still more complex than is necessary, and in execution the whole thing falls apart. Bluntly, Fu Yuan’s plan to get revenge on Gao Mingxiong using a pissed-off workforce who commit suicides in protest makes the byzantine plan orchestrated by the Joker in The Dark Knight look like a simple arithmetic problem. Adding to the mess are needless subplots, like one where Chang Sheng uses hypnotism to find out if Donglu still cares about her. Also, some moments of exposition happen too quickly to process; at two hours, Vanished Murderer is already pretty long and yet Lo Chi-Leung sometimes speeds through plot details, with just a quick snippet of dialogue to explain before someone starts playing crazy detective. We know you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, Chi-Leung, but slow down there, hoss.

The film also has drawn out moments, like one grand sequence when the workers defiantly protest Gao Mingxiong. That scene is rousing but overdone, and also Donglu doesn’t seem personally invested in the workers’ plight. During the protest he’s trying to defuse a bomb, but we never see him clearly support the disenfranchised workers’ stance. Donglu’s involvement in the investigation is also puzzling. He’d probably chase Fu Yuan anyway, but she works to involve him because, as she puts it, she loves to watch him investigate mysteries. That’s great, but why would anyone launch an elaborate revenge plan and then invite someone to stop it unless their involvement somehow helped the plan come to fruition? That would make sense, but Donglu isn’t integral to Fu Yuan’s plans – he’s just there because she likes to see him hanging around, more or less. At this point, the entirety of Twin Peaks – including fan-fiction and the non-canon Dale Cooper Japanese coffee commercials – may make more sense than Murderer Vanishes. It’s that illogical.

WTF can still lead to entertainment. The story barrels forward almost recklessly, sometimes dropping amusing moments like a chase scene where Donglu inexplicably becomes a horse whisperer, and gets a random horse to play possum and physically assault a human being with just a few sweet nothings. Also, while there aren’t many, the film possesses entertaining set pieces. Besides the horse chase there’s a lengthy climax on a fast-moving steam locomotive, which involves near-decapitation from tunnels, threatened derailing, and a clever callback to a moral question early in the film. Sadly, the identity of the mastermind really makes no sense; the film sets up a person up very clearly to be the big bad but their situation and character do not spell “person who’d do evil for personal gain.” Maybe the filmmakers wanted the villain to seem improbable, but since the story and the actor’s performance telegraph his villainy – well, what the hell was everyone really thinking? Seriously, I can rant about this movie endlessly.

Let’s end this positively. It’s not as good as its predecessor, but The Vanished Murderer still qualifies as a well-made commercial film. The visual effects are excellent, and Lo Chi-Leung directs with an enjoyable, occasionally unexpected playfulness. Composer Chan Wing-Kwong enlivens the action with his spirited score, and the cinematography and costuming are as appropriate and evocative as in the first film. Performances are fine for the most part. Lau Ching-Wan is a pro at obsessed cop types, though Donglu is but a wan version of Lau’s darker, more enigmatic mad detectives. Li Xiaolu is a little out-of-place, but her shrill cuteness balances the more humorless characters. Jiang Yiyan, who was a real standout in The Bullet Vanishes, is still charismatic and alluring this time, and her arresting chemistry with Lau Ching-Wan is probably 50% of any recommendation this film receives. And you can recommend The Vanished Murderer, as it’s got an intriguing mystery and is a fun, playful ride. It just makes no damn sense. So, let your necessity for logic be your guide here. I think it matters but if you don’t, Lo Chi-Leung has your back. (Kozo, 12/2015)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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