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This article was written By Jamie Cansdale on 19 Feb 2019, and is filed under Reviews.

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About Jamie Cansdale

Jamie Cansdale is a graduate of Film and American Studies from the University of East Anglia, where he specialised in Japanese Cinema, Youth Subcultures, and the American 1960s. During his time there he became heavily interested in semiotics, postmodernism, ideology, and the ideas of the real, the simulacra, and reconstructed realities. His undergraduate dissertation explored the human-internet interface in post-millennial Japanese genre cinema from a philosophical perspective. He is a writer and contributor for The Metal Observer, Metal Recusants, and New Noise Magazine.

Who Killed Cock Robin (Taiwan, 2017)

In a country eleven times smaller than the state of California, intertwining narratives are likely to be more commonplace in Taiwan than its neighbours, perhaps even inescapable. Though the odds of life-changing and eye-opening events somehow involving a group of people who all somehow know each other remain slim it is more than likely there will be an unfathomable network connecting these people together. Though this trope in cinema (and TV) can largely result from lazy scriptwriting there have been a great number of films that buck the trend, managing to not only successfully pull this off but also in setting the precedent for others to follow. Cheng Wei-hao’s second full-length feature, the stylish Who Killed Cock Robin, is one such film, navigating a unreliable network of lies and secrets in the most enthralling way possible.

After an accident exposing the illicit handywork on his ‘new’ car links him back to a fatal car crash he was the sole witness for nine years before, journalist Wang Yi-chi (Kaiser Chuang) slips into an obsessive probe for the truth on what happened that fateful night. With his network of contacts and fellow reporter Maggie (Tiffany Hsu) he manages to track down surviving victim Hsu Ai-ting (Ko Chia-yen) who went missing from hospital after the accident and is now unwilling to indulge Wang in his investigation. But the reopening of old wounds spills its own share of blood and as decades-old secrets begin to surface the web of lies spun by all the players becomes more complex. When Hsu goes missing a second time the truth becomes more elusive and Wang finds himself racing against inexplicable odds.

A visual feast delving deep into Taipei Who Killed Cock Robin is as much a moody noir thriller as it is a Rashomon-esque descent into deception and misdirection. Its constant flickering back to a past deliberately forgotten by its close-knit cast of players feeds our intrigue but does not leave us guessing for long; instead of extracting questions it spends considerable time in lulling its victim into one false truth after another, hooking them with a razor-sharp wire digging deep into the skin only to plunge in another and change course time and time again. Though the puzzle pieces often fall too conveniently for Wang his engagement with such a convoluted mystery is deeply engrossing and the further down the rabbit hole he goes the more our hunger salivates to see the whole picture fall into place; at nearly two hours long it is an impressive feat to keep an audience quenching for the final reveal(s) without straying too far from its own intentions – nothing here is superfluous. By the time the indelible final act comes around we are as ill-prepared as we are starved, its impact hard-hitting and long-lasting.

While its increasingly intricate story seems more suited to that of a TV series, Cheng Wei-hao executes his shadowy second feature with such finesse he makes every frame count. Entirely driven by plot and circumstance Who Killed Cock Robin is brought to life by powerful performances from its central cast, including Christopher Lee Ming-shun’s Minister Chiu, Wang’s former employer who has him fired after a scandal gone wrong, and Mason Lee’s Wei, the subdued police recruit unfamiliar with Wang’s journalistic approach. Every character has a story to tell and may be more involved than initially thought, each performance a near seductive embodiment of the lies clouding the path to the truth with Lee delivering an unforgettable delivery in the film’s second half. It’s easy for a film of this nature to get lost in its own trickery with a lacklustre cast, poor writing, and a blatant abuse of timing; the triumph of Cheng’s film is that is suffers from none of this with every conceivable component going out of its way to draw in its audience and keep them on their feet.

As if it wasn’t enticing enough this labyrinthine picture is blessed with Chi Wen-chen’s eye for drawing out the best of his surrounding – his cinematography is sharp, his technique grounded in realism, and his framing precise – and Kipo Lin’s editing prowess which ties the deepening story in a way that is both accessible and enigmatic. Nothing here is left to chance in its unravelling and Lin makes absolute sure of this; needless to say, the future definitely looks bright for this up-and-coming editor. Praise also must be given to R.T. Kao’s immersive sound design and Rockid Lee’s haunting score that engulfs the audience with a deluge of eeriness and unhinged claustrophobia befitting of this film’s unfurling tragedies.

Nominated for no less than five awards at the 54th Golden Horse Awards including leading and supporting actor for Kaiser Chaung and Mason Lee respectively and for Lin’s editing, it is a wonder how it won none of its categories. Still, Who Killed Cock Robin stands proud at the forefront of a Taiwanese cinema expanding its reach far beyond Asia and a domineering piece of mystery filmmaking; superbly constructed by capable hands it makes for an utterly absorbing and deeply entertaining watch. Overflowing with charm and intrigue with an unforgettable finale this is as restless and unflinching as it comes, barely leaving any space to gasp for air before each successive plunge into the deceitful depths below.