China, 2011, colour, 1.85:1, 95 mins.
Director: Hou Liang 侯亮.
Modest satire of Detective Dee-like costume sleuths is likeable fun, with a good cast led by Guo Tao.
Sihai county, somewhere in China, Early Republican era. Meng Guofu, the richest man in the county, has divided his wealth between his two sons, Meng Shaoqiang and the younger Meng Shaoyun. When Meng Shaoqiang is beaten to death one night with a stool, Meng Shaoyun (Tan Yaowen) is arrested and, with blood on his hands, admits his guilt. Meanwhile, “the world’s greatest private detective” Ka Naiji (Guo Tao) – born and raised in the local Hibiscus Garden whorehouse and interested solely in making money – receives an anonymous message asking him to fight for Meng Shaoyun’s innocence. His liaison, until the case is solved, is to be Meng family doctor Zhou Ziru (Fan Lei), who assigns his niece Linlin (Han Xue) to help Ka Naiji, as she already knows the details of the case and happens to be a martial-arts expert. Ka Naiji interviews the imprisoned Meng Shaoyun who says his brother asked him to sign over his half of the inheritance and, when he refused, he fell unconscious, waking up to find his brother dead and a bloody stool in his hands. Ka Naiji realises Meng Shaoyun was drugged and that the unrecognisable dead body may not be Meng Shaoqiang’s after all. Meng Shaoyun says he wants to see Yu Na (Ju Wenpei), Meng Shaoqiang’s grieving widow, so Ka Naiji and Linlin journey to the countryside to meet her. Then the case develops a surprising twist when Ka Naiji discovers that Meng Shaoqiang willed his share of the inheritance to an adopted son in Korea.
Satirising the current mini-trend for murder mysteries and costume detectives, Deadly Will 囧探佳人 is a lightly funny vehicle for comedian Guo Tao 郭涛 that’s sustained by some good screen chemistry between the cast and an air of not taking itself very seriously. Guo looks much more at home here than in the recent 3-D extravaganza Don Quixote 魔侠传之唐吉可德 (2010), where his deadpan style was overwhelmed by the production and special effects. As the doofus detective Ka Naiji 卡乃吉 (a pun on “Nike card”), who is asked to solve the brutal murder of a rich man’s elder son, Guo has a good screen partner in TV actress Han Xue 韩雪, as an unlikely martial-arts expert assigned to help him, as well as co-stars Ju Wenpei 居文沛 (the wacky partner of actor Fan Wei 范伟 in Set Off 即日启程, 2008) as the plot’s femme fatale and Hong Kong’s Tan Yaowen 谭耀文 as a devious family doctor.
The corkscrew plot, revolving round a complicatedly structured will, just about makes sense, and fends off close examination thanks to mobile direction by Hou Liang 侯亮 (The Game Sports 大厨小兵, 2008). Production values are on the modest side but okay, and after apparently concluding at the 70-minute mark the script blithely adds an extra act with a few more surprises. The film is more likeably humorous than laugh-out-loud, but a plot development involving a Korean character is genuinely funny. The Chinese title involves several untranslatable puns.
Presented by Beijing Haotian Zhongwei Culture & Media (CN), Shanxi Century Xingye Film & Television (CN), Shanxi Broadcasting & Television Network (CN). Produced by Beijing Haotian Zhongwei Culture & Media (CN), Shanxi Century Xingye Film & Television (CN), Shanxi Broadcasting & Television Network (CN).
Script: Zhou Haohui, Hu Rui, Hou Liang. Photography: Sun Yanqing. Editing: Du Yuan. Music: uncredited. Art direction: Jia Zuoliang. Costume design: Liu Yaming, Liu Chuanjiang. Sound: Liu Yang, Terry Tu, James Andrew Ashton. Action: Li Zongqiang. Visual effects: Zhang Jia.
Cast: Guo Tao (Ka Naiji/Nike Card), Han Xue (Linlin), Tan Yaowen (Meng Shaoyun), Liu Xiaohu (Tai, young government official), Ju Wenpei (Yu Na, Meng Shaoqiang’s widow), Guo Jin (Furong/Big Sister Hibiscus), Fan Lei (Zhou Ziru, Linlin’s uncle), Choi Jun-seok (Gim, Korean), Li Jianren (Tang Wu; Tang Xiao’er), He Yanni (first wife), Gan Lulu (concubine), Liu Lujia (Cui), Wang Shuangxin (Meng family’s old servant).
Release: China, 7 Apr 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 8 Jun 2011.)