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July 24, 2017

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The Killer Who Never Kills (殺手歐陽盆栽)

Another Taiwanese singer has made his movie debut: Jam Hsiao (蕭敬騰). The popular entertainer stars as a sympathetic contract killer who saves lives, but fails short of saving his first feature film "The Killer Who Never Kills" (殺手歐陽盆栽).

The title speaks for itself. Hsiao plays Ouyang Penzai (歐陽盆栽), which translates into "potted plant," the understudy of a retired contract killer, who has taken over his master's work for the mafia. In a reference to the film "Léon," the well-trained underling has a hobby of cultivating potted plants, but experiences some difficulties in taking a life.

After he befriends his first victim, Penzai finds himself unable to complete his mission. However, knowing that the gang would not only find someone else to kill not only the target, but also him, Penzai stages a death with a dead body and gives the man a new identity.

Based the series of "Killer" novels (殺手系列) by acclaimed Taiwanese novelist Giddens Ko (九把刀), "The Killer Who Never Kills" would have been better had the creators cast a more seasoned lead actor. As an actor, Hsiao, who found musical fame on One Million Star (超級星光大道) — Taiwan's equivalent to "American Idol" — does not possess the same charisma and emotional quality as he does as a singer. His expressions and actions often look tentative, stiff and rehearsed, showing his inexperience as an actor.

The general plot of the film is tolerable. And despite Hsiao's acting, it is hard for anyone not to feel just a bit for such a heroic character like Penzai, especially after a scene where he tries to force himself to kill a fish but cannot. He carries on his rescue schemes with the exception of a few uncooperative victims.

There are insertions of comic relief such as when Penzai is asked to kill a doctor who performs circumcisions. The redeeming parts of the film are the comedy provided mostly by the supporting cast, notably Jeffrey Huang, who plays a cocky young mafia member with aspirations to globalize betel nuts.

The major conflict arises when Penzai is asked to kill the woman he loves. However, the makers throw away an opportunity for a poignant or climactic ending with a humorous and creative attempt to promote Hsiao. The ending is both so intelligent and awful that you have no choice but to laugh and any good impression you had about the movie is replaced with thinking that you've just watched a two-hour Jam Hsiao publicity film. Coincidently, the film's release also comes just under a month after the release of Hsiao's new album.

The makers of the film opt to go the commercial route by choosing a popular singer who has little acting experience. "The Killer Who Never Kills" lacks the excitement and suspense a thriller should have due to a flat performance by Hsiao. The film will have success due to premeditated star power, but those who want to watch a real thriller should stay away. ■

► Directed by @pple / With Jam Hsiao, Lin Chen Shi, Eric Tsang, Chrissie Chau and Jeffrey Huang / Thriller / Taiwan / 2011 / 115 min. / Rated PG for some graphic images and strong language / Mandarin with Chinese subtitles / ★☆☆☆☆ / Now Showing

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