China, 2014, colour, 2.35:1, 100 mins.
Director: Zhang Cheng 张承.
Twist-heavy black comedy of business intrigue fails to come off as a stylish entertainment.
Chongqing, central China, 6 Sep 2013, Friday. Japan’s Lihong Pharmaceuticals, led by Miyashita Taro (Sato Hiroyuki), is in talks to take over the ailing Chenggong Pharmaceuticals, led by Li Fuhua (Liu Hua). The latter knows the Japanese are only interested in Chenggong’s formula for its famous anti-insomnia pill Yulu Sanshen 雨露散神片; they also know there is a traitor in their midst, known as Mr. S, who has agreed to sell the formula for a downpayment of US$2 million. Chenggong’s stressed-out sales director, Lin Yitai (Su Youpeng), who hasn’t slept for days and is being treated by company doctor Ma (Ke Junxiong), is trying to find out the traitor’s identity. Office gossip suspects An Qi’er (Chen Qiao’en), secretary to general manager Ruan Dazhi (Lin Junxian). Lin Yitai searches Ruan Dazhi’s office that night and on the floor finds a SIM card that, when activated, connects him to Umekawa Mikiko (Hong So-heui), Miyashita Taro’s personal assistant, who addresses him as “Mr. S”. Lin Yitai immediately hangs up. With the final meeting between the two companies due to take place on Saturday afternoon, Umekawa Mikiko and her two enforcers (Yano Koji, Li Yuanpeng) suspect Mr. S may be trying to trick them and keep the downpayment. After hiding the SIM card, Lin Yitai visits An Qi’er but gets no clear answers. He next meets Ruan Dazhi in a bathhouse, leading the latter to suspect Lin Yitai is on to him. (Two days earlier, when they handed over the downpayment, the Japanese had installed a camera with the money to find out Mr. S’ identity, but so far they’re still in the dark.) On Saturday morning Lin Yitai visits a shopping mall where Ruan Dazhi’s diary said he had an appointment, presumably to hand over the formula. There he bumps into Umekawa Mikiko, who accuses him of being Mr. S. Lin Yitai denies it, setting off a long trail of mutual suspicion and double-dealing that lasts until the final meeting that afternoon.
Six years after his directorial debut with the offbeat rom-com Marriage Trap 婚礼2008 (2008), writer Zhang Cheng 张承, who sprang to film fame with his script for Crazy Stone 疯狂的石头 (2006), stays in the world of double-dealing with The Suspicious 最佳嫌疑人, a kind of black comedy-cum-corporate thriller that needs a super-computer to sort out the plot. Set in Chongqing, central China, and with a cast from Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan alongside local Mainlanders, it aims for a quirky tone blending humour and intrigue but ends up as a messy experiment that just keeps on tying itself up in ever more elaborate knots. If for anything, The Suspicious will likely be remembered more as the last film of veteran Taiwan actor Ke Junxiong 柯俊雄, a pin-up of the 1960s and 1970s, who died on 6 Dec 2015, aged 70.
Largely seen through the eyes of the sales director of a pharma company that’s been targeted for a Japanese takeover, the film initially aims for a kind of woozy, jet-lag feel as the protagonist, played by Taiwan’s boyish-looking actor-singer Su Youpeng 苏有朋 [Alec Su], stumbles around trying to unravel the mystery of who’s betraying the company while suffering from a bad bout of insomnia. But it’s soon clear that Zhang lacks the directing experience to bring something like that off, with the early scenes in particular having a drab look (especially in interiors) and no real visual style. As the second half becomes more and more unbolted, and Su’s character also proves an unreliable witness, Zhang mistakenly relies on plot twists alone to carry the movie.
Su, who was very good in the tonally similar (but much more accomplished) crime comedy Sweet Alibis 甜蜜杀机 (2014), made just prior, looks as lost as his character and proves a weak anchor for the film. He’s surrounded by a cast jostling for attention: Hong Kong’s Lin Junxian 林俊贤 all over the place as the hapless traitor; South Korea’s Hong So-heui 홍소희 | 洪晓熙 more focused as the Japanese chairman’s multilingual assistant but robotically voicing her own Chinese dialogue; and Japan’s Yano Koji 矢野浩二 and China’s Li Yuanping 李元鹏 as a pair of idiotic Nipponese enforcers. Much better are Taiwan’s Chen Qiao’en 陈乔恩 (The Allure of Tears 倾城之泪, 2011; The Continent 后会无期, 2014) as the svelte secretary who may or may not know a lot, and the Mainland’s stone-faced Liu Hua (Crazy Stone; Marriage Trap) as the Chinese chairman. Taiwan’s Ke makes a dignified cameo in a couple of scenes as the company’s slightly ominous doctor, neatly capping a career devoted to handsome but dangerous-to-know characters (Lonely Seventeen 寂寞的十七岁, 1967; Home Sweet Home 家在台北, 1970; Eight Hundred Heroes 八百壮士, 1976).
Little is made of the Chongqing setting, with the action largely set in anonymous offices, residential interiors and a large mall. The film flopped on release, grossing a puny RMB9 million.
Presented by Beijing Nanhai Pictures (CN). Produced by Chongqing Yuhong Highway Engineering Group (CN), Chongqing Pherome TV Culture Communication (CN), Beijing Time Sky Media (CN).
Script: Zhang Cheng. Photography: Zhao Xin. Editing: Zhang Yifan, Zhao Kuisong. Music: Wang Xiaoyu. Art direction: Han Dahai. Sound: Lin Siyu. Costumes: Gu Shuzhen. Executive direction: Cui Lingbin.
Cast: Su Youpeng [Alec Su] (Lin Yitai), Chen Qiao’en (An Qi’er), Lin Junxian (Ruan Dazhi), Hong So-heui (Umekawa Mikiko), Liu Hua (Li Fuhua, Chenggong Pharmaceuticals chairman), Wang Xun (Chinese interpreter), Yue Xiaojun, Peng Bo (bodyguards), Yano Koji (Koji, older Japanese enforcer), Li Yuanpeng (Taiyo, younger Japanese enforcer), Ke Junxiong (Ma, doctor), Sato Hiroyuki (Miyashita Taro, Lihong Pharmaceuticals chairman), You Liping (Song, old employee), Wang Rui (Li, Ruan Dazhi’s wife), Wu Jinxi (Xu Qing), Huang Yuxian (Kai Wen, Ruan Dazhi’s cousin).
Release: China, 18 Apr 2014.