2015

Former K-pop star Luhan skates, fights, solves crimes and sings in The Witness

Actor and former K-pop star Luhan, left, and Yang Mi in a scene from the Chinese film The Witness.

Actor and former K-pop star Luhan, left, and Yang Mi in a scene from the Chinese film The Witness.

Luhan is the main male star of the new film The Witness (Wo Shi Zheng Ren), a China-Korea co-production. It’s his third film, after 12 Golden Ducks, and 20 Once Again.

K-pop fans will already know who Luhan is. For the rest of you – he was one of the Chinese members of the large Korean boy band EXO.

The Witness has other Korean connections, too – it’s a remake of the Korean film Blind (블라인드 Beullaindeu). Ahn Sang-hoon directed both films. (BTW: 20 Once Again is a remake of another Korean film, Miss Granny. You can read my review of Miss Granny here.)

In The Witness, Luhan plays Lin Chong, a rather disrespectful rollerskating guy who sees a hit-and run-accident and reports it to police hoping to earn a reward. Even though he is the main male character, he doesn’t appear until the film is well underway. First we have to learn a few things about the main female character.

She is Lu Xiaoxing (Yang Mi) a student at the police academy. One night she forcefully (very forcefully!) drags her “brother” away from practicing with his rock band, berating him in front of his friends for skipping school and deceiving their parents. (The guy is really her cousin. . . I think.) His foolish behaviour as she’s driving him home leads to an accident that kills him and leaves her blind. Xiaoxing has to leave the police academy; she spends the next three years feeling sad, guilty, learning Braille and how to get around with a guide dog.

One day she goes out without her guide dog (for no good reason, except to advance the plot).  Through a dangerous misunderstanding on her part, she later gets into what she thinks is a taxi. As a passenger, she experiences the same hit-and-run accident that Lin Chong sees. Xiaoxing and the driver get out of the car to discover what happened. He tells her that he hit a dog, but she doesn’t believe that and tries to call the police. They’re struggling over her phone when the driver sees the lights of another car approaching. He drives away in a hurry, leaving Xiaoxing lying in the road. Before he goes, we see two things that Xiaoxing does not – that her diary is in the car, and that the driver put the body of the accident victim in the trunk.

When the police talk to Lin Chong and Xiaoxing at the same time, their stories differ in major ways. The police have already learned to respect Xiaoxing’s heightened senses, along with the advanced powers of deduction that the blind always seem to have in this kind of film, so they call call Lin Chong a “punk” and accuse him of inventing a story to get the reward. Xiaoxing is very hostile towards him because she’s convinced that she’s right; Lin Chong points out that he still has functioning eyes while she does not.

This initial hostility between these two characters will be familiar to anyone who watches romantic comedies. The difference here (minor spoiler!) is that while they eventually do develop a closer relationship, it’s a brother-sister one, as opposed to a romantic one, because cheeky Lin Chong reminds Xiao Xing of her rebellious “brother” and Lin Chong wants to protect her when he realizes that her life is in danger.

After more investigation, the police suspect that the hit-and-run driver (Tang Zheng, played by Zhu Yawen) might have a connection with several women who are missing and feared dead. Tang Zheng has Xiaoxing’s phone number and address, he also knows that she and Lin Chong have talked to the police and to each other. Oh, oh!

The Witness is relatively entertaining as long as you don’t think too much about the parts that don’t make sense. Going out without the dog is just one of them – there are several others!.

One particular highlight is a night-time chase scene that has Luhan, on his rollerskates, fleeing from the bad guy. At first it looks like he’ll get away easily, because the streets are too narrow for the bad guy’s car. But wait – a delivery guy has left his scooter running! Vroom, vroom, and they’re off! They twist and turn through the alleys, ride down staircases and bannisters – it’s pretty good! (Sure, most of it was probably done by a stuntman, but still! You can find scenes of practicing rollerskating Luhan’s training on the Internet.)

Wondering if Luhan sings? Of course he does! The script might have some silly parts, but the people behind the  film are not stupid!

Compare and contrast: If you have seen Blind (or even if you haven’t) you might wonder how the two films compare. Well, many parts are almost identical – the guide dog is quite endearing in both films. In fact, I think it might be the same dog.

The guide dog in the Chinese film The Witness is quite cute and provides occasional comic relief.

The guide dog in the Chinese film The Witness is quite cute and provides occasional comic relief.

The Witness is glossier and wealthier all around, though – the siblings grew up in a fancy house and the musician brother had a very well appointed rehearsal room in the basement, with posters of U.S. bands on the wall. The bad guy also has a very fancy house and a drawer full of cellphones.

In Blind, by contrast, the young woman, Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul) is still a police student, but  “brother” was a break dancer, who grew up with her in an orphanage. Lin Chong’s counterpart, Gi-sub (Yoo Seung-ho) has a job, delivering fast food on a scooter, unlike Lin Chong, who just skates for fun. Xiaoxing’s apartment looks nicer than Min Soo-ah’s and the Chinese hospital Lin Chong and Xiaoxing go to up looks fancier than the Korean one.

While The Witness has its share of violence, up to and including death, Blind has more violence and more blood. The Korean bad guy is several degrees more evil than the Chinese one. I suspect this reflects censorship rules in China and a desire to keep the film in the “for all” category on the international market, to take advantage of Luhan’s huge fan base.

The Witness, directed by Ahn Sang-hoon, starring Lu Han, Yang Mi, Zhu Yawen, Wang Jingchun

It’s two hours long, in Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles. In Montreal it’s playing at Cineplex Odeon Forum, 2313 Ste. Catherine St. W.

This link will take you to a list of theatres in Canada and the U.S. showing The Witness.

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