*WARNING*: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. If you DO NOT want to be spoiled, please DO NOT read. You have been warned.
One of the most depressing movies ever. I’m so not kidding. It was that depressing. Right from the start until the end. Okay, maybe it wasn’t as depressing when it started out as kind of hopeful that the newly arrived couple could have changed things around there. Yet of course it wasn’t some pop culture’s attempt to make us feel hopeful about life. It was a serious movie that captured some of the most injustice things about life. It was the brutal reality of how people used others to climb the ladder of career–or even gained respect. The ones who were known as being from the worst side of the society were being frown upon. The typical song of all time. Yet it still managed to keep things interesting with how things turned out to be. It wasn’t even trying to gain favors by making a compensation for the ending either. And I thought it didn’t have to be that way. That was so sad yet more realistic.
First off, I think YesAsia’s summary of the plot was all jumbled up with some of the chronological events so it would be less frustrating with keeping up if you don’t follow that version while watching–or expecting some things to happen first or after, etc. I actually became interested in this when it was being slapped around on Facebook with its promotions. Thinking that it might be worth a try, I got it when it came out later. Since I want to steer away from the pop culture a bit (ironically since most of the cast are from the pop culture, lol) because of the plot. I wasn’t disappointed to find something different yet was quite devastated with the tragic events that the characters went through, especially Enson and Annie’s characters.
The film began with a soft, sullen song accompanied by a red vehicle driving toward an unknown destination. It first covered somewhat of a city area and eventually cut into a more deserted, country-like landscape. We finally got to see a couple with the young man driving and the young woman clutching on a map while at the same time trying to push a piece of loose hair out of her face as she fanned herself with the map in her hand. The weather was somewhat humid with little of wind to aid its effort. Then the scene moved toward a group of little kids bullying a pair of siblings. The boy, being a little older, took on his protective role and grabbed onto his sister’s hand as they ran from the other kids’ attacks. The chase ended at the couple’s car with the brother tossing some rocks he found toward the group of kids, trying to shield his sister as best as he could. Then the young man stopped his car and got out upon seeing the scene, yelling for the other kids to stop the attack. As that group of kids ran away, he then turned to address the siblings, asking for their well-being before asking for directions. By this time, the young woman had gotten out of the car also. As the little girl was pointing toward one direction, her brother slapped her hand away and pointed in the opposite side. The couple thanked the boy and left, their bond apparent that they were very much in love. So the scene zoomed out with the couple’s car heading in one direction while the siblings headed in the other. We soon found out that the kid had misled the couple on purpose, causing the young man having to explain to the police officers on duty when he finally arrived to report of his presence. So that was the beginning of the battle, wasn’t it? Or somewhat of a mistrust toward a cunning little kid. The couple was none other than Gao Ming Gang (高明剛) aka Ah Gou (阿狗)–portrayed by Ivan Chen En Feng and his fiancee was portrayed by Bianca Bai Xin Hui. And the little boy was Yu Fang Guo (余方國) aka Yu Zai (魚仔 – Fish).
After all arrangements were made and Ah Gou was signed in, wedding arrangements proceeded. Perhaps it was an omen–if one believed so, because on the day they took their wedding pictures, the photographer jokingly said that they looked like they were taking their ‘funeral’ pictures instead of wedding pictures. That had caused quite a reaction from the young woman, of course. Yet the photo session continued after the photographer apologized for his illed-luck joke. Though we could see that the couple was no longer in the mood for smiling or other high-spirited gestures.
Then the next scene zoomed to where Ah Gou was out in the streets with Nan Ge (one of the officers at that town). Nan Ge was taking Ah Gou out and about in the markets and teaching him the ropes to solving cases. Nan Ge was browsing through different shops and greeting a variety of people, including some kids. They soon encountered Fish, who was apparently cutting class and punching games at the local arcade. While Nan Ge was carrying on a conversation with Fish, Ah Gou realized it was the same kid that had misled him on the first day he arrived in town. Fish, having recognized Ah Gou also, was avoiding eye contact and trying to appear indifference. Yet that wasn’t the most important part of the scene or the focus because Nan Ge finally moved on to the main topic, stopping all side/casual talks. He offered Fish a part-time job, which led them to a noodle stall as Nan Ge outlined the terms. Then they moved on to rehearsing lines that Fish would eventually rattle out in response to the questions the next day at the station. It was an easy, money-making job, right? With false witness report or just claiming some small theft–as they continued to eat their noodles. It might as well be Fish’s last bowl of noodles because he soon found out the next day that he had been conned into admitting the crime of a cold-blooded murder. That wasn’t the worst part either because the worst part was finding out that it was actually his sister that he was responsible of killing, which came as a shock to him. Whether he’d done it or not, he’d already admitted by putting his signature and fingerprint on the documents. (Though his conversation during the statement-taking process showed us that Fish had not done it, considering how he asked Ah Gou to buy his sister this one item in a magazine/catalog for her upcoming birthday.) It seemed that Ah Gou was equally shocked of the turns of events. He, himself, said it to Fish earlier that Fish was only going away for no longer than a month, so he was not thinking it would result in this one murder case. Yet his one crime was letting it slide as Fish was being led away. Though it was due to Nan Ge’s pull at first, preventing him from going after the officers from the 1st precinct and clarifying matters YET he did not speak up at all afterward or did anything else to undo the damage. We soon learned through the next scene–sort of a flashback–that Fish’s sister had been killed (by drowning?) and how the accounts of a neighbor had led to suspicions on Fish–thus Nan Ge getting the idea of pinning it on Fish since it was so easy.
The following scenes were just bits and pieces of Fish’s life growing up, getting in and out of prison, depending on the crime. The grown up Fish was now portrayed by Enson Chang / Zhang Yan Ming. His life continued as one roller-coaster of crimes yet we finally saw traces of happiness when he finally met Xiao Xing (小幸)–portrayed by Annie Liu Xin You. On the other hand, paradise was beginning to fall between Ah Gou and his wife. Bit by bit, we began seeing the change in their relationship, from the bliss of happiness to extreme intensity, to the point his wife yelled out that she wanted a divorce. Though Fish’s life was full of bitterness yet after finding love, it seemed more worth living and somewhat fell into a more stable stage, even extending to wanting to leave behind the life of crimes to settle because they finally have something to look forward to. Not to mention how his wife was pregnant, so they did not want to risk their future by him doing all the dangerous deeds that his ‘Lao Da’ ushered into his arms–like previously. (Note that the changes with Fish’s attitude and life was heavily portrayed with his attires and hairdo throughout those time frames. Since up to the point where he got out of prison that last time and coming home to his wife after a brief shopping trip, it had become more tame–in a sense.)
Vowing to brush his hands off of all crimes (or more like taking the fall for his ‘Lao Da’) wasn’t as simple as Fish had hoped. Because there was this supposedly last job he had to do before he could walk away. And that had caused him to cross path with Ah Gou once again. It all began with Fish having to break all security cameras at this one location while Ah Gou was seen arguing with his wife over some accusations. That disagreement ended up in his wife taking their daughter, Pei Pei, and wanting to leave town. She initially wanted Ah Gou to come along as well yet he refused hence the argument. She really wanted to mend their relationship. However, it was too late because she was shot and killed that night along with another man, causing others to suspect Ah Gou since he was the last one to see his wife before it happened, and they even had an argument. After Ah Gou found out and came back to see his wife’s body in the morgue, he was devastated and guilt-ridden; and that also resulted in his daughter not talking to him anymore–and blaming him for causing her mother’s death. While all that was happening, Fish was in the hospital with his wife, staring down at his child for the first time in awe. Two things happened that night, one life taken away–one life being brought into the world. Imagine the contrast of the two yet it somewhat reflected the balance between Ah Gou and Fish’s world. They were from the opposite side of the society so the happenings of their lives would also be in contrasting forms. And just for the record, Fish named his daughter Yu Si Hui (余思惠) in memory of his dead sister, Xiao Hui (小惠).
As fate would have it, one day when Fish was walking along a dirt road, Ah Gou was seen sitting nearby the water, thinking to himself. So they finally met again–and that of course had triggered some reactions from Fish. Can’t blame him because how his life had taken a drastic turn after being framed and put away by Nan Ge and Ah Gou. So they fought. But that was only after they found shelter from the rain–and way after Ah Gou was thinking about the past when he first met his wife, how it was also raining. Somehow, they managed to calm down–or more like exhausted from the fight, and settled down inside the little shed. So Ah Gou apologized to Fish for framing him once upon a time. Yet did it matter anymore? What had been done was already done. So what was there to do except beat Ah Gou some more? To which Ah Gou fought back this time. Probably still trying to deal with his wife’s death? And the frustration that followed? So they ended up drinking together after another fight. That was short-lived as well since after some brief bonding, Ah Gou soon found out the contents inside Fish’s bag and accused him of killing his wife (Ah Gou’s). And that resulted in Fish running for his life–literally–as Ah Gou maniacally shot at Fish.
Since Ah Gou couldn’t participate in the whole investigation of his wife’s death, he was forced to resort to his own method. But he was outmatched by Fish since Fish had fled to his father’s house with Pei Pei. But Ah Gou got his own plans, which involved kidnapping Xiao Xing and her daughter, and wanting to do an exchange. How did that turn out? One big mess! Because Xiao Xing just recently gave birth so her stitches came apart and her condition worsen when Ah Gou had to steer the wheel just briefly. What was even more was how the baby fell out of the vehicle and landed at an unknown location. (I was quite puzzled with how the baby survived actually BUT I guess it wasn’t impossible. Just unbelievable.) Ah Gou did not have time to find the baby at that time because he had to take Xiao Xing to get medical help first. Though that provided an opportunity for others to capture her as Ah Gou went back to the meeting place to seek out the baby. Fish was there with Pei Pei and Pei Pei directed them to where the baby was because she had a better view of the place being up in the tree house. They managed to slip away after rescuing Xiao Xing out of the sticky situation, each group following their own path. Another tragedy soon followed as Xiao Xing died that night after witnessing how her husband was so caring toward her well-being and trying to heat up some milk for their baby. But before she died, she had made Fish promise to help Ah Gou solve his wife’s murder (aka the same thing as cooperating with Ah Gou to clear his own name).
So when Ah Gou got back to civilization, he soon got a prostitute to give statements that he was indeed with her the night of his wife’s murder–thus clearing his name. Yet it had shifted to Fish. Ah Gou spoken up out of frustration and somewhat of amusement that they had thought of pinning it on Fish and confessed that it was him and Nan Ge who had framed Fish 13 years ago of Fish’s sister’s murder. Yet no one believed him because Nan Ge was already dead, so the others thought he was just pinning that on Nan Ge since Nan Ge wasn’t around to defend himself anymore. IF only he had spoken up years ago. Though it wouldn’t make a difference since Nan Ge was quite influential around there BUT better than wait until now.
After the funeral, Ah Gou met up and talked to Fish who was lurking nearby. Ah Gou soon learned that Xiao Xing was already dead yet he couldn’t help Fish anymore because he was no longer a cop. However, Fish insisted and urged Ah Gou to find the real killer. The next day, they met and talked on this one boat. The most important piece of the puzzle was inside the box that Ah Gou claimed to be the only thing left that showed traces of him being a cop all these years. YES, those pictures that he hired someone to take of his wife, etc. Fish, with his sharp eyes, noticed some guy lurking behind the scenes in every shot of the photos. It was their only lead. After some snooping around, they managed to find the resident of that stalker. That stalker was also a photographer himself. His place was a dark room and had tons and tons of pictures plastered all over the walls, indicating that he had been stalking Ah Gou’s wife for a while now. Yet within those rolls and rolls of films lay the evidence they needed more than anything. So while Ah Gou was studying the photos on the wall, Fish was scrambling to find the window to let air in because of the stench. Fish soon discovered that there was a spying instrument nearby so he took a peek to see where it was angled toward. Two guesses. So the camera was pointed directly at Ah Gou’s house. Nice? They were one step closer toward finding out the real killer. Just a little more wait. Strange as it was, they were sitting there in the dark, waiting for that stalker to come home while sharing some random moments, including the part where Fish ended up using a camera to snap pictures of them both, causing some annoyance from Ah Gou.
Things cranked up several notches as a chase ensued because the stalker ran (DUH) upon discovering Ah Gou and Fish at his place. Only when Fish fired a warning shot that the stalker stopped. When Ah Gou finally caught up, he delivered some punches toward the stalker, wanting him to confess of his crime. Yet something quite interesting unfolded as the stalker finally uttered out that he did not mean to kill Fish’s sister. That was WAY off all right since we, as the audience, did not expect that. Or at least I did not expect that since it seemed so far-fetched, so random, so off. Screaming in outrage, Fish was desperate to learn more of his sister’s death that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. The police had arrived on the scene and as things escalated further with Fish’s interrogation, we saw in the flick of light, Xiao Li aimed at Fish and made his shot. After turning around to take a glimpse at the person who had taken his life, Fish crashed down as Ah Gou stared, dumbstruck. No surprise that the last images of his life contained Xiao Xing talking about their future and his promise to her. A scene so hopeful, contrasting to that of the current state. The others finally unfroze from their spots and Ah Gou advanced on Xiao Li, confronting him about his betrayal. Yet Xiao Li only replied that he did not want to become like Ah Gou. Was that it? The sole reason why another life was lost that night. Another innocent life.
The story finally unfolded back at the station as the stalker confessed of his crime. No, an accident as he claimed–yet that accident had caused so many lives since then. He was just a sick pervert, stealing underwear. And Xiao Hui had caught him and screamed, causing her fate. Then he placed her inside the water tower. Yet his rambling about it happening yesterday just didn’t slide. Besides, so many things had pointed to Fish that the investigator in charge decided to let it be, allowing Ah Gou to wash his hands off the matter too. He was offered to return to work anytime he wanted. But could he? Once again, he was told to follow through. Read from a written statement, huh? Simple, right? Yet it weighed heavily on the conscience. His reaction? Beat up the investigator. Violence couldn’t solve anything but that guy seriously deserved it. But I felt like the investigator nailed it when he said it was all about the politics AND that Ah Gou was the one who killed Fish 13 years ago. Sure, Ah Gou finally realized he should stop and try to repent himself–or whatever it was left that he could to make up for his past wrongs. BUT he did indeed destroyed Fish’s future since he agreed to join in with Nan Ge in pinning the murder on Fish. He didn’t realize it at first, but not speaking up all along was not any different (like said earlier in the review). Who was the most pitiful in this situation? Fish’s father. Yes, he’d been through the times when he lost both his kids–one to death and the other to prison. And now, he lost his son and daughter-in-law. What was left was their baby. It was a little glint to hope for and to go on. In fact, it was the only thing that allowed whatever else of sanity that was left in the old man to continue on. The scene with Ah Gou walking toward the old man holding the baby was enough. It captured the whole scene without having to say anything at all.
That night, at home, while reminiscing of his wife, Ah Gou finally cried out. Pei Pei stepped into the scene and comforted him. It was her first time speaking coherently since her mother died. It was like she’d already forgiven her father–or more like, no longer blaming him anymore. Since we already learned of who killed Fish’s sister, what about the actual killer of Ah Gou’s wife? Ah Li (portrayed by Rio Peng). YES, fans would be surprised. Or if you had paid attention to him throughout, it would’ve been quite suspicious with what he was doing. Ah Gou found out the truth when he was packing that night since he had decided to leave such a complicated town that he had resided in for such a long time–and could not change or help anyone at all. The town was full of corruption and complication. Or more like some people’s coverup that could not amount to anything else. Anyway, Ah Gou was packing when a roll of film fell out of his jacket pocket. And he took a look, causing the scene to flash to those pictures that he and Fish had confiscated that one night when they went to the stalker’s house. Those pictures of Ah Gou and Fish were of course the ones Fish had taken while they were waiting for the photographer to come home. The set of pictures of Fish and Ah Gou soon replaced with those that the photographer took the night of Ah Gou’s wife’s murder–and it zoomed to the one person we would never suspect in the first place, Xiao Li. The Xiao Li who only wanted to do his job and not get into sticky situations like Ah Gou. Yet he lied. He was just trying to cover up for his crime all along. (YES, he was the hired gun that was supposed to take down that politician but Ah Gou’s wife was there, so that left him no choice.)
The scene cut to Ah Li coming home and closing his door. Just around the time when he was locking it, another door opened somewhere within the house and a pair of feet appeared. That person had been waiting for Ah Li all that time–in the dark. Ah Li realized it a bit too late that someone was inside his place. As he began to study the intruder, he was only able to spot a gun before it fired at him. A set of pictures scattered on the floor. Pictures of that night. And now there lay Ah Li’s body, completing the final stage of the whole plot. The shooter was Ah Gou and he’d shot Ah Li to avenge his wife’s death–and possibly Fish as well. After staring down at the body, he stepped past it and left the scene, closing the door with a loud thud in a dramatic and effective manner, announcing everything was at its end–while Ah Li’s cell phone continued to vibrate on the floor.
The last scene of the movie was Ah Gou driving out of town with his daughter and stopping at the exact spot where he and his wife–then fiancee–had entered town years ago. It was also then that he remembered back to the time he met Fish and his little sister–whom had given him directions. Yet the mood was so different then because both siblings were already dead, even his wife. So much had happened and the once silly memories were quite precious–even the one with knowing Fish had given him the wrong directions. Yet what had followed was the beginning of his nightmare. The music played a major part in that scene because it just shatters your heart while Ah Gou was reflecting on the past, etc. Not to mention that the music playing in the background was the same song used as the starting point of the movie. The music contained this creepiness yet hollowness at the same time. And the movie ended with Ah Gou hugging his daughter, the only important person left in his life–who had survived the worst.
It was tragic is an understatement since it was more than that. So frustrating in many ways with such things happening. The story chose a small town to portray how corrupted and complicated things were with the authorities and people around there. It was to the point that right and wrong no longer could be distinguished and if you were not careful, you would be pulled in as well, just like how it did to Ah Gou.
Acting? Totally blew away. First time watching Enson and Ivan but second time for both Annie and Bianca. Yet they were wonderful, capturing the right moments of the scenes, allowing us to walk into their worlds, feeling all the emotions with them. I especially clap for the little girl who portrayed Pei Pei. And last but never least, kudos to the awesome production team.
Recommended? If you’re not all for sad endings, don’t bother.