Sheep Without A Shepherd

Reviewed by Carol Rennie

This romp of a mainstream Chinese blockbuster was the highest grossing film in China on its opening weekend, and ranked tenth overall in terms of box office 2019. It certainly pleased the Alhambra audience: "More like this!" was heard from more than one.

Just as Nordic Noir adds a bit of je ne sais quoi to crime dramas on our television screens these days, so the Thai setting of this film, entitled ‘Manslaughter’ in the original, adds a bit of local colour in the form of orange-garbed monks, colourful markets, Thai boxing, and a smattering of foreign language. More importantly, the fact they are Thai and not Chinese allows the Chinese audience to enjoy the spectacle of a wicked police chief commissioner, her venal politician husband and their spoiled, criminal son, who assaults our protagonist's daughter and is then killed in self-defence, without any risk of implied subversion/anti-state sentiment.

Movie-mad Li Weiji, a poor Chinese immigrant with little education, covers up his wife and daughter's manslaughter using the knowledge he has acquired watching endless police dramas. He creates and takes his family through an elaborate alibi weekend. Twisting time, jumping through various hoops, and consistently outwitting the police, he surprises both his family and the audience with the final denouement, with the resolution providing confessions, acceptance, and a sense of natural justice restored.