Six Suspects – Taiwan Film Festival

Written by Yi-Yun Lin

Directed by Lin Tuan-Chiu

Taiwan / 1965 / 109 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

Le Brio – French Film Festival

Directed by Yvan Attal

Written by Yaël Langmann, Victor Saint Macary, Yvan Attal, et al.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

t’s pretty easy to offend someone these days, isn’t it? For the past few years, an age of resentment has simultaneously grown as a counterculture against elitism, prejudice and right-wing media. It’s a complicated issue; when do free-speech and jokes lose their acceptability, or were they even acceptable to begin with? Le Brio examines the relationship between an aspiring law student, Neïla, and her encounter with Professor Pierre Mozard, an expert in his field, with some evidently choice opinions on international students.

What compels our viewing lies squarely in the performances of Daniel Auteuil and Camélia Jordana, without whom the film’s success would diminish considerably. They have to win us quickly. Following Rémy Chevrin’s wonderfully shot pans of the University of Paris, Le Brio plunges us into one of Pierre’s class as Neïla arrives late. Antagonising her, seeking to humiliate, Pierre makes jabs of Sharia Law, Algerian names, and the way she dresses. All live-streamed, Pierre is forced to take Neïla under his wing to prepare her for upcoming inter-university competitions – all to keep a board of directors off his back, and protect the University’s image.

A counter to the counterculture, Le Brio has little concern for offence, indignation or appeasing an audience’s protestations with the character Pierre, offering a valiant argument against the blame and cancel culture we find ourselves within. Yet, the writing team accomplishes a sense of balance; Pierre is by no means a hero, and Auteuil does his utmost to rile a response, proving this point of quick blame and immediately devolving the accuser’s argument. 

Let’s get it over with – the character of Pierre is a deplorable racist, with a dangerous level of wit, utilising archaic methods of teaching. He is also the best thing in the film. Intentionally offensive, Auteuil refrains from playing Pierre as ‘misunderstood’ – he’s just a dick. The character is a testament of French comedy, blunt in delivery and refusing to conceal humour behind sarcasm, a tremendously British delivery mechanic. Pierre is so depraved in his attitude, that it’s difficult not to find the performance compelling. His chemistry with Jordana is wholly natural until the pitfall of the climax, where a budding understanding, which took time to develop, poisons the dynamic by resolving rapidly.

Her reactions to racial comments, understandably angered, humanise her performance, as the emotional response is believable. Disenchanted with the world – particularly with the old white patriarchs in it – Jordana’s engagement with the character connects with viewers. She isn’t perfect, however, often leaping to conclusions, allowing her temper to overcome her and her pride to slip into arrogance. Throughout, the evolution of Neïla has run seamlessly; her relationships with her mother, Pierre, boyfriend Mounir and importantly herself have momentum, but no conclusion, as Le Brio seems to force a stalemate between her and Pierre.

Perhaps the film’s best are the quieter moments as Jordana and Auteuil reflect on the impact one has had on the other. Chevrin’s wonderful use of light as Jordana travels across the murky Parisian evening, passing the fluorescent tower blocks, contrasts Pierre wandering across the orange-hued cobbles that filmmakers normally prefer to capture of the city.

And then, Le Brio falls on its sword. It stumbles into the narrative derisions it was so wonderfully avoiding. With happy endings, schmaltzy sacrifices and tropes it was lampooning before, it’s a disappointment from an otherwise clever piece of writing. As Pierre and Neïla hurl insults at one another, smiling and laughing, there’s a sense that Attal was afraid of his own film’s gall, tying up the gutsy narrative with a cheerful, lurid bow of an ending. 

Review originally uploaded for The Wee Review:

Extra Ordinary – Netflix

Written & Directed by: Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, the last person you’d call is the driving instructor, right? Well, in quaint, middle-of-nowhere Ireland, this is precisely who to reach out to for all your ectoplasmic queries. Where other than rural Ireland could you stumble upon satanic rituals, pernickety ghouls, and humour in death? The perfect setting for Extra Ordinary, unassuming horror-comedy surrounding grief, regrets and farce.

Cult status, it’s a prize some deem worthy for a piece of cinema. One can’t shake the feeling, that this is what is instore for Extra Ordinary, at least in a minor sense. This unashamedly self-aware horror meets romantic-comedy knows precisely the story it wants to tell, and is only tumbling slightly in execution. Rose is a driving instructor in (very) rural Ireland, with one unique talent – Rose can communicate with the dead. A gift she shuns out of regret in having a part to play in her father’s death. That is, of course, until Martin Martin requests an exorcism.

There’s a surprising finesse in portraying banal – especially in a film which draws humour in the deceased. Martin Martin is now a widower with a teenage daughter to raise, his deceased wife Bonnie regularly haunting, possessing and generally being a pain in the arse, even in death. Barry Ward grounds the performance, which heightens the otherworldly aspects surrounding the character, but equally as capable in delivering hilarious physical comedy.

In the absolute reverse, Ahern and Loughman’s decision to cram a part of the narrative with, what they perceive, as twists and excess, costs the film an otherwise near-perfect package. At first, the doily coated Exorcist is a quaint, zany comedy, bolstering an oddly sweet gallery of characters, who plunge headfirst in foiling the antics of Will Forte as Satanist Christian Winter. Less a Faustian terror, more bumbling sitcom neighbour, the direction here fumbles as the comedy which put the fun in funeral, now seems intent on shoehorning tension, the over-the-top drama becoming more transparent than any supernatural creature.

Their saving grace, Maeve Higgins as Rose, carries such sincerity it’s easy to surrender to the lunacy of the script. The delivery plays into Extra Ordinary’s style, with its lashings of classic horror references, screwball moments and vintage VHS requiring a team able to ground the film, yet maintain momentum and world-building. No one excels at this better than Higgins, who captures an authentic sense of humour, concealing the loneliness she feels. This tenderness from Higgins demonstrates Ahern and Loughman’s written capability, marrying ludicrous comedy with fragility. Rose often identifies with the spectres she communicates with, unseen, unloved and alone, whilst Martin Martin’s throw-away line about “speaking with anyone, even a driving instructor, opens the doors to a frankness about death.

Visually, the set dressings and props reinforce an aesthetic, but cinematography limits itself to practicality. No reason to stretch for an art-house feel, there’s a distinct lack of manipulation or attempt at framing Extra Ordinary outside of medium or close-up shots. Instead, focus shifts to effects; notably the hazy, VHS 4:3 aspect segments which break-up the acts of the film, complete with title cards and choppy audio. They’re excellent visual gags, which hark back to those cassettes all shelves had, but with no origins materialising from nowhere.

Ahern and Loughman’s Extra Ordinary conjures those wicked nostalgia demons of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. There’s more than a fleeting similarity to the spirit of Edgar Wright or Stephen Volk, but Ahren and Loughman’s film is certainly of their conception, a determined pastiche with as much life as it has love for both horror and comedy. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Extra Ordinary is availale for streaming now on Netflix