On Good Friday, my pastor sermonised that one way to know how much you truly love someone is whether you would be willing to give up your life so that the person would be out of harm’s way. The Devotion of Suspect X postulates another way – love can be demonstrated by how much you are willing to perform the most heinous act so that the person would be free to live his or her life.
My first encounter with the fascinating story was the Japanese movie adaptation Suspect X back in 2008. I remember coming out of the cinema feeling euphoric with all the dizzying ideas and getting a gut punch by its sheer poignancy. That was my first introduction to the author Keigo Higashino and I proceeded to read all his books that were translated into English and I love everyone of them to bits. The story of The Devotion of Suspect X is so uniquely powerful and transcending that it lends itself for various movie treatments. To date I have seen the Japanese, Hindi, Tamil and Korean versions, and each of them feels like a window into another culture and each serves up an intoxicating dish. Do we even need a Chinese version?
Luo Miao-shen (Ye Zuxin) and Tang Chuan (Wang Kai) work at the Jiangbei police department. The former is a detective and the latter is a physicist who consults on cases suspected to involve “high-IQ offenders”. Chen Jing (Ruby Lin Xin-ru) and daughter Xiaoxin (Deng Enxi) live in a small apartment next to Shi Hong (Zhang Luyi), who teaches Math at an elementary school. Jing becomes a prime suspect in the death of her lousy gambler of an ex-husband Fu Jian (Zhao Yang), but things are not what they seem.
Higashino’s story resembles a classic whodunnit, but with one huge difference – you already know who the murderer is within the first 10 minutes! His audacious method of forgoing the revelation of the perpetrator/s as suspense and entrusting us to want to find out the how and the why is a profoundly delicate act. He does this by making you care about his multi-layered characters. With a slow avalanche of misdirections and sleights-of-hand, the plot becomes more of a howdunnit and whydunnit, which is equally as intriguing and it becomes a sublime human lesson in consequences of actions. Alec Su’s second film is an accomplished one. Even though the film is very much faithful to the original, having the setting transposed to an urban city in China brings with it an authoritative authenticity. There are a few very interesting detours from the original and a fitting coda, which I will not disclose. The tone, cinematography, casting and pacing, are all spot-on. The film opens with the plaintive stylings of a lonesome piano, which surreptitiously goes off-key with the introduction of the villain. Elsewhere, the lush music score is almost a character itself in the procedural and a beautiful theme song laced with erudite words ends an excellent experience.
Unlike the Korean’s adaptation, the tone and pacing here is handled deftly. We are given time to ponder the giant human puzzle with the characters offering various hypotheses. But all these will come to nought if the casting of the leads is not pitch perfect. Wang Kai brings just the right amount of insolence and arrogance, peppered with an unfathomable knowledge that his compatriot could have done the unthinkable. You believe his disbelief, so when it wavers, yours will too. Zhang Luyi is a revelation. You will believe his despondency and quiet desperation; his life moving with the ebb and flow of solving a complex Math problem. The dialogue between these two equals is full of double entendres and deadly metaphors. In none of the other adaptations do I sense the gravity of their dialogue. Perhaps it didn’t manage to get translated and I could understand the mandarin here.
The story of The Devotion of Suspect X resembles a giant puzzle, lava always bubbling under its surface. You know the final picture but at the same time you willingly push some narrative elements away and might even entertain the notion that crime does pay. The dread and melancholy is thick with potency, and you can slice it with a knife. When the pieces and different threads finally converge in a flurry, the revelations come thick and fast with meaning and repressed emotions erupting in torrents. I already know the twists and turns, but I was so engrossed in the story and acting that I could almost feel it is the first time I am experiencing the mystery. This Chinese entry is an assuredly directed film and I would rank this after Suspect X (2008) and Papanasam (2015), the latter is not a direct adaptation but it definitely draws inspiration from it and blazes its own identity. No matter what, I envy anyone who has no knowledge of the story and all its other adaptations. You are in for one incredible cerebral mind-trip. Who is the greatest – is it the problem solver or the one who designed the problem?
4.5 / 5
The theme song – 清白 (陈洁仪). Love the lyrics.