THE 9TH PRECINCT (第九分局) (NETFLIX) (2019)
SYNOPSIS: An idealistic cop joins an underground police unit and battles ghoulish forces threatening the balance between the human and the supernatural realms.
Hollywood has the R.I.P.D while HK has Vampire Cleanup Department and now Taiwan has The 9th Precinct. In a gist, the police force has a secret department setup to deal with the dead and the supernatural. No doubt all the movies listed have the same outline and formula, a dash of horror + thrill + comedy. The 9th Precinct is no exception.
Taiwanese actor Roy Chiu plays Chen Chia-Hao, a rookie cop who after encountering a bizarre shootout with a criminal is being assigned to the ghost crimes bureau under the watchful eyes of Officer Chang (Peng Cha Cha). Apparently, Chen is able to see the dead since young though he is unable to hear them speak which explains why he is an useful asset.
Together with Chang and fellow female officer Hsueh (Wen Chen-Ling), Chen’s duty now is to settle the problems of the dead in the 9th Precinct. Any related crimes and mysteries however must be relegated to the other departments to prevent any dire consequences. But when Chen and the estranged daughter of Chang, journalist Ju-Hsin (Eugenie Liu) stumbles upon a case which involved the deaths of many young innocent ladies, they decide to go ahead and check on a sinister hospital director, Sun (Yeo Yann Yann). By doing so, Chen has went against the basic rule of the 9th Precinct which Chang has earlier warned him about.
The 9th Precinct contains lots of references to Chinese superstitions and mythology in the way the late Lam Ching Ying mesmerized the whole lot of us in his Mr Vampire series. Of course, The 9th Precinct is a much mellowed version and Hsueh is the only standout character who is possessed by the drunken monk deity when in times of need. Unfortunately, Roy Chiu is the weakest link of all. He seems perpetually bored all the time even veteran Peng Cha Cha is far more interesting to watch.
Yeo Yann Yann who is much familiar to all of us here plays the devilish satanic worshipping hospital director. Her performance might be over-the-top at times but it’s never a dull thing to see Yeo in a movie appearance. The biggest problem however lies in the execution. The 9th Precinct is chockfull of events, characters and nearly everyone has a backstory to tell. Chen has a ghost mother. Hsueh is a runaway and brought up in a temple. Ju-Hsin blames her dad for neglecting her family. And then Chen has to avenge the death of a female ghost who saved his life. And what’s up with the undercook villainous Sun?
For all the drama conjured by director Leo Wang and his writer, there’s a serious lack of urgency and humour. None of the antics and happenings are particularly entertaining, thrilling or funny. It seems they are there for the sake of being there, to fill up the screentime and nothing more nothing less. Given Taiwan’s wondrous records with the horror genre in recent years (The Tag Along and The Rope Curse for example), we expect a bit more from The 9th Precinct. It turned out we are as perpetually bored as Roy Chiu.
Review by Linus Tee