Imagine having seen enough crime films to know how to be able to cover up a murder successfully. Well that's exactly what Li Weijie (Xiao Yang) does in the hit Chinese film Sheep Without a Shepherd, a remake of the 2013 Indian thriller Drishyam.
Li lives happily with his wife and two daughters in Thailand, but their eldest daughter is assaulted and blackmailed by another student. Things go horribly wrong and the boy is accidentally killed in self-defence. So Li uses his extensive knowledge of films to dispose of the body perfectly, and provide his family with an alibi so they don't get caught. There's just one problem though: the boy they killed was the son of the police chief La Wen and she will do whatever it takes to find out what happened to her son.
Sheep Without a Shepherd is an absolutely thrilling ride from start to finish as La Wen pushes the police to the max, leaving no stone unturned and stopping at nothing to find out the truth about her son. It's a fiendishly clever film and an excellent directorial debut from Sam Quah. It feels like a brilliant mix of Knives Out and Parasite; full of so many complicated twists and turns and we fear our protagonists are going to get caught by the police in a vein similar to Knives Out. It also bears a sense of Parasite in that your heart will be pounding for the final forty-five minutes as we race towards a shattering conclusion, not knowing how it's going to end.
The pacing is spot on as the film slowly builds and the tension escalates throughout. The first half at first feels a bit slow but by the end you realise how well-paced it is as about halfway in it changes gears and goes full throttle all the way until the end, leaving you no space to breathe as the police are getting so close to catching Li and his family.
Much like all of us here at Filmhounds, Li is a complete film buff. He watches over 800 films a year and he uses this extensive knowledge of films he's watched, in particular detective films such as Se7en and Memories of Murder, to plan the perfect way out. He manages to dispose of the body and the car and provide a perfect alibi for his family. But the police are somehow still hot on their tail. Li spends all his time watching films and it's like it's all been leading him to this very moment as Police Chief La Wen says to him “you think you can get away with this just because you've watched a few films?”
Sheep Without a Shepherd is such an engrossing and engaging film that will have you hooked the whole way through. Even though it does have a couple of issues including some slightly awkward editing and dull colour grading, it's one of the most gripping films you'll see all year. The film was a huge hit in China when it was released there in 2019 with it being one of the highest grossing films of the year. After not getting its intended UK cinema release last summer, we finally have the chance to watch it in the UK now and be taken aback by this exhilarating cat and mouse game.
Sheep Without A Shepherd boasts a complex and emotional story, excellent performances and an experience that will definitely stick with you. It's relentless and will have you on the edge of your seat, itching to watch more detective films in case you ever get into a situation like this.
Sheep Without a Shepherd is available in virtual cinemas as part of Chinese Cinema Season now and on digital from 26th April.