Director: Zhang Mo
Cast: Zhang Xiaofei, Lee Hong-chi, Kara Wai, Boogie Wang, Hong Junjia
Runtime: 2 hrs
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Some Drug Use)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 16 November 2023
Synopsis: Chen Zhiqi (Zhang Xiaofei) is a prominent lawyer, who has yet to lose a case. But when her daughter is kidnapped, she receives a phone call asking her to defend a murder suspect within five days, and only by winning the case can she save her daughter. The case takes a turn for the better with the help of police officer Jin Zhixiong (Lee Hong-chi). As the investigation unfolds and evidence emerges, Chen gradually discovers the truth, revealing the man behind the curtain. Will she be able to save her daughter in time?
There was no way the Mainland China authorities would allow a movie that casted aspersions on its legal system to be screened, so in her remake of the 2007 Korean movie ‘Seven Days’, Zhang Mo (otherwise known as Zhang Yimou’s daughter) has chosen to set the movie in a fictional city called Kuapuar City. We have our suspicions how Zhang had in fact modelled Kuapuar City after Kuala Lumpur, especially given the names of some of the supporting characters, but it is also ultimately ambiguous enough not to incur a diplomatic reaction.
Like its predecessor, ‘Last Suspect’ unfolds over the course of seven days through the eyes of a top defense lawyer, who is caught up in a web of corruption, cover-ups and other forms of chicanery when she is forced to defend an ostensibly innocent man wrongfully accused of murder. When we first meet her, Vicky Chen (Zhang Xiaofei) has just accomplished an unbroken streak of 30 consecutive lawsuits, winning her the nickname in the press as the ‘Queen of Reversing Verdicts’. That dedication to her work has come at the expense of time with her daughter Eng, which she promises to make up for by participating in a parent-child relay race at her daughter’s school.
Alas, Eng is kidnapped during the event, but the ransom the kidnapper demands is for Vicky to defend Daniel (Hong Junjia), who has been convicted for raping and murdering a female university student when visiting her apartment to tend to her pet dog. Daniel claims that he had stumbled upon the crime scene that evening, and the murderer was someone else who had fled the apartment when he arrived. To get to the bottom of the case, Vicky turns to her pal Kim (Lee Hong-chi), a brash police officer who has conveniently been suspended from his post for assaulting a suspect.
Mo, who co-wrote the movie, keeps the narrative gears spinning fast and furious in order not to have her audience scrutinise the logic gaps. Oh yes, this is probably best appreciated as a TV-equivalent version of a potboiler, with plenty of twists and turns that do not always make sense if you think harder. In particular, the final twist will require almost a complete suspension of disbelief, what with the murdered girl’s mother Mrs Lin (Kara Wai) suddenly playing a pivotal role in the entire proceedings that is as incredulous as it gets.
Despite its shortcomings, Mo does find an effective emotional anchor in the story around the extent to which a parent would go for his or her child. That is reflected in how Vicky puts her life on the line to rescue Eng; it is also shown in how Mrs Lin would go out to get revenge for her daughter; and last but not least, it is also demonstrated in how a high official would risk it all just to protect his illegitimate son. You’ll empathise with each one of these characters, whose motivations as a parent are affecting, even as their methods are clearly flawed.
Though the younger Zhang still has a long way to match the directorial craft of her eminent filmmaker father, ‘Last Suspect’ shows her proclivity for social dramas, highlighting the impossible plight that a parent is sometimes confronted with. It doesn’t have the same finesse as its source material, but it is nonetheless a credible legal thriller that hits enough of the genre beats to keep you entertained, engaged and even enthused. It is also one of the rare Chinese movies to have a strong female central character, and in turn, inspires a compelling leading turn from the other Zhang.
(The TV-equivalent of a potboiler, this efficient legal thriller finds unexpected emotional heft in the extent a parent would go for his or her child)
Review by Gabriel Chong