Written by Yi-Yun Lin
Directed by Lin Tuan-Chiu
Taiwan / 1965 / 109 mins
Tenn Kong-Hui has no shortage of enemies, though that’s expected for a crooked blackmailer. Abusing his talents in reconnaissance, he takes a twisted delight in busting up the soirees, marriages and lives of the social elite – for a fee, of course. So when he turns up lifeless in his apartment, there’s already a shortlist of possible suspects – five to be exact. As each turns up an alibi, the case seems lost – until a breakthrough comes when a final sixth suspect surfaces.
And who can blame the killer? As Tenn Kong-Hui is carried with such a revolting smugness by Tung-Ju Wu, if anything, they surely just merely beat someone else to the punch. Richly embodying the seedy underbelly of the flourishing middle classes, this pro-police crime thriller has a depth which isn’t obvious at first. Our villain, a roguish blackmailer, sits atop his high horse noting the rotting underbelly of a seemingly innocent society, long before the world caught on. Much of this is due to the period of the film’s production, a time of martial law where law enforcement were the unquestionable heroes, while the corrupt middle class was the enemy.
What makes it easy to follow an overlapping timeline and character-rich film is Yi-Yun Lin’s clear writing. Little is over-complicated and rather than attempting to subvert the audience’s expectations, the script merely allows the story to develop, twisting when necessary. It makes for a compelling mystery that still takes a surprise turn with its unusual and diverse range of suspects. Remarkably well-paced (despite the multitude of overlapping story threads), Six Suspects never strays from the realms of believability or understanding. Yi-Yun Lin’s writing flows quite naturally, even if the odd performance reaches heights of cartoonish exaggeration. Eliminating the suspects, the film’s structure dips and emerges out of flashbacks to understand the lead-up to the fate of Tenn Kong-Hui, unravelling the murky tactics he employed to unearth his trove of secrets.
With cigarettes, popped collars and attitude, Lin Tuan-Chiu transforms Taipei into an energised, vibrant metropolis with ease thanks to Lai Cheng-ying’s expressionist lighting, accompanied by smooth jazz. Everything is amplified in Six Suspects, especially the emotion. Fuelling the untrustworthy nature of the suspect’s accounts, Lai Cheng-ying casts shadows across any available surface, grasping the noir angle with both hands. Visually, it creates a sharp monochrome dynamic, achieving a fly-on-the-wall sensation which draws the audience to the side-lines as these sordid affairs and betrayals unfold.
Humiliation, jealousy and rage abound – it’s a wonder the film has as little a body count as it does. Collectively the cast does a smashing job, not only in giving life into a plethora of different characters but also in their motivations and interactions with one another. From cheating businessmen to seductive suitors and loyal partners, Lin Tuan-Chiu’s direction of them usually reins in the hammy performances, save for a couple, which stray from a noir thriller into comedic territory. Notably, Chin-Hsin Hsia gives much of the gritty game away and stands out for the wrong reasons against the more rounded, natural performances of Ching-Ching Chang.
Six Suspects may have never received an official release, but here it sits as a solid example of an interesting period for Taiwanese cinema. A crime thriller which initially toys with interesting ideas succumbs to a flawed climax where the police are once again the victors against the bourgeoisie incessant wants of greed and envy. An addictive taste for dramatics can be satiated with this film, if you can stomach the police-pandering and occasional hackneyed performance.
Review published for The Wee Review