Who Killed Cock Robin? (Mu ji zhe)  

Taiwan (2017) Dir. Cheng Wei-hao

Everyone knows the Sparrow did it – he even confessed. Well, that was quick wasn’t it? Actually, the second film from Cheng Wei-hao has nothing to do with this traditional nursery rhyme aside from using the title to imply this mystery crime thriller won’t be so straightforward.

Journalist Hsiao-chi (Kaiser Chuang) thinks he has a major scoop when he arrives at the scene of a car accident to find a prominent politician and a young model unconscious. On his way back to the office Hsiao-chi is hit by another car, and learns from the garage that his second-hand car is a cut and shunt job. In reporting it to a police acquaintance, Hsiao-chi now learns his car was involved in a hit and run accident nine years earlier.

Having been fired after his story proved inaccurate, Hsiao-chi decides to investigate the history of his car, realising that he in fact was a witness to it! In checking his photo archive, Hsiao-chi discovers some of the photos were deleted, suspecting his former boss at the time. Along with his now erstwhile supervisor Maggie (Hsu Wei-ning), Hsiao-chi goes in search for the truth behind the original car accident.

I’ve probably made the plot seem more convoluted than it sounds but in my defence, Cheng Wei-hao’s presentation is a little scrappy and erratic, flitting between the present timeline and the past with no warning, and often recapping scenes from moments before with a prevalent addenda that could have easily have been shown the first time. But as annoying as this is, a grander scheme driving it is gradually revealed.

Ambitious scripts that rely on complex structures and teasing narratives require plenty of planning and a firm grasp on avoiding the dangers of a lapse in continuity or keeping the various plot threads together. With this being Cheng’s second feature, there is an initial feeling that this may be too big for him, as assured as his direction is but it would appear we are being fooled as much as the characters in the story are.

Hsiao-chi was just an intern when the accident happened and while he did get some photos of the crashed car number plate, some were badly blurred and his editor Chiu (Christopher Lee – not that one) didn’t run the story for that reason. In the present day, the investigation reveals the driver of the struck car was killed while his female passenger, Ai-ting (Ko Chai Yen) ended up in a coma, but had since fled the hospital and disappeared.

Through some lateral and unusual lines, Hsiao-chi and Maggie manage to track down Ai-ting, unaware that someone else who is interested in finding her is following Hsiao-chi. But while this is happening the details of the night of the accident are still a mystery and when some interesting names start to feature heavily during the investigation, the plot inevitably thickens, especially when some of the people are rather keen to avoid further detection.

Muddying the waters further are the contrasting accounts of the night in question, the only constant factor being that one car did hit another. We are alerted to the Cock Robin theme coming into play when the first reveal comes quiet early in the film and of course it can’t solved with well over an hour left to run. Unfortunately this do throw up a couple of snags in the plotting, namely the death of one implicated character which was set up to look like and (unconvincing) suicide then was never mentioned again.

Similarly, Maggie disappears during the middle section, resurfacing when needed in the final act but this absence isn’t sufficiently explained considering how far into the investigation she was with Hsaio-chi; certainly Maggie had good reason to lie low as we later learn but some indication, even a fleeting one, as to what she was up to wouldn’t have gone amiss for someone who was so prominent early on.

But this is a rare misstep, maybe due to the run time, which is just short of two hours, to avoid this becoming a tiresome merry-go-round of conflicting accounts in the name of self-preservation. Just as the story begins to spiral out of control with the contrasting revelations coming thick and fast just as Hsaio-chi seems to be getting closer to the truth, the story takes a much darker and deeply unpleasant turn.

If the sinuous plotting and labyrinthine journey to the truth is the product of a creative and devious mind, the shocking twists, brutal violent and grisly tableaux that arrive in the final stretch are the product of a very questionable mind. Cheng presents us with a tale that tests the audience’s stamina in a number of ways, from trying to make sense of the plot, to determining whose story is genuine and finally reconciling the hideous nature of the truth.

Because the mise-en-scene sways between glossy thriller, quirky arthouse flourishes and gonzo horror through the use of a handheld camera, the overall sensation is unnervingly schizophrenic. One early shot of a bloodied (dead?) eye reflected numerous times in a broken wing mirror is one example of how Cheng’s visual toying of our sensibilities is an integral part in atmosphere building.

There are many characters to keep track of and I must confess it took me a while to realise when I was watching Hsaio-chi in flashback, but this is a credit to Kaiser Chuang’s ability to adapt his performance. It is worth noting one supporting role is played by Mason Lee, who is the son of director Ang Lee, with a few small Hollywood parts to his credit.

Who Killed Cock Robin? is a film that can’t really be done justice in a review since discussing the plot essentially requires spoiling it, so seeing it for yourself is the best way to truly appreciate and understand it. A little rough around the edges but Cheng is certainly onto something with this interesting and surprising film.

2 thoughts on “Who Killed Cock Robin? (Mu ji zhe)

  1. They should promote this movie by saying Christopher Lee stars in it. Technically it wouldn’t be lying! Besides movie billing is weird given that you mentioned how Wonder Woman’s actress was ranked under Lois Lane.

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