Fairy Tale Killer (Zui hung)

Hong Kong (2012) Dir. Danny Pang

A psychotic escapee from a mental hospital Jun (Wang Baoqiang), is brought into a police station where he confesses to murdering five “wolves” and gives a name. Senior detective Han (Lau Ching Wan) and his team pay a visit to the named man (Lam Suet) who is very much alive and dismiss Jun for wasting their time. The next day however the man is found dead but while there is still insufficient evidence to arrest Jun. two more people are killed and Han begins the investigation into Jun’s past, learning of the appalling treatment he and an autistic girl named Yue Yee (Elanne Kwon) suffered at the hands of these people at an orphanage as kids.

Danny Pang is arguably best known for the successful team he has made with his brother Oxide, giving us such notable hits as Bangkok Dangerous, Re-Cycle and The Eye, although occasionally they like to work on solo projects with varying degrees of success, giving credence to the “two heads is better than one” maxim. While Fairy Tale Killer shows glimpses of the masterful horror output of the brothers, it tries too hard to incorporate too much into what is a standard crime thriller.

The title revolves around the fairy tales Jun and Yue Yee used to read when hiding following a beating, putting themselves in the place of the heroes in the tales and their abusers as the “wolves”. Yue Yee paints some very disturbing pictures of the fairy tales and Jun interprets them as who to kill next and how to kill them. Meanwhile Han has extra troubles of his own: at work he grasses on two colleagues trying to hide evidence in the case, leading to some dissention in the ranks as Han wants to be seen as an all round good guy.

At home Han has an autistic son Shu, whom he can’t seem to show affection towards, and a long suffering wife (Joey Meng) who protects Shu at every turn. As if by amazing coincidence Shu also likes to draw, creating some very unusual pictures which Han notices are similar to the ones he saw drawn by Yue Yee, giving Han a headstart as to how and when the next murder will play out.

The final act turns into a Saw-esque race against time which sees Han put in the position of having to make the decision of either a personal sacrifice or saving the lives of his colleagues and family, only not as blood thirsty and inventive as Jigsaw’s fatal traps. The problem here is that the preceding deaths were nowhere near as extravagant as the big finale giving the sense that Pang and his four writers couldn’t work out how to end the story and threw this in hoping to dazzle the audience with a spectacular conclusion, which sadly doesn’t quite work.

In fact this is a problem with the story as a whole: way too much crammed into its 93 minutes. The idea of having an autistic son playing a part in the solving of the crime is an interesting one, but there is no sense that Shu is being shown as anything other than an idiot savant with no exploration or care shown in handling and explaining his autism. Even Jun and Yue Yee, while clearly victims with a clear case for feeling aggrieved, aren’t painted in a sympathetic light, more like a couple of loonies indulging in some killing.

With so many threads to juggle, many of which are worthy of being the plot for a film of their own, nothing gets sufficient time to settle with the viewer thus robbing them of any resonance and ultimately, any relevance in the long run. This lack of coherence serves to handicap any potential the premise has and as an attempt to establish any emotional connection with the characters, it is a clumsy and unfulfilling one.

Pang is lucky to have assembled a reliable cast, lead by the inestimable Lau Ching Wan, who do their best with the convoluted script and unconvincing dialogue. Elanne Kwon probably makes the largest leap, trying to shrug off her dolly bird image with an esoteric essaying of the autistic Yue Yee. Pang is not a bad director but this film shows that he should write scripts on which he can focus his best ideas to and not try to throw everything into the mix.

A serviceable if slightly overambitious and needlessly jam packed story, Fairy Tale Killer is a well made but clumsily constructed distraction.