By Lim Yian Lu
A remake of Drishyam, the 2015 Indian crime thriller, Sheep Without A Shepherd stars Xiao Yang as Li Weijie, a businessman who runs an Internet service in Thailand. Weijie, together with his wife Ayu (Tan Zhuo), have two lovely daughters – Pingping, portrayed by Hui Wenshan, and An An, portrayed by Zhang Xiran. As he went on a business trip, his older daughter Pingping accidentally killed Sangkun, portrayed by Bian Tianyang, the son of the head of the regional police Laoorn (Joan Chen), who is also the mother of the 17-year-old Hui Wenshan, and politician Dutpon (Philip Keung).
The plot gets more intense after Weijie finds out about the incident and starts covering up the truth. Using his knowledge from watching an abundance of films, he orchestrates everything as if his whole family had not met Sangkun by intelligently faking alibis using space-time misperception. Laoorn, who is anxious to find her son, tried to make them confess their sins but to no avail as Weijie is always one step ahead of them with his perfectly thought out crimes.
When Sheep Without A Shepherd was released in China, it took the top spot in the box office and became the highest grossing film in its opening weekend. While the plot is generally engaging and suspenseful — who knows what is up this seemingly ordinary businessman's sleeves? — the main draw would be the superb acting from Xiao Yang, who previously acted in Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon and Detective Chinatown, and Joan Chen, who is known for her roles in Saving Face and The Home Song Stories.
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Both actors were able to bring the characters to life, allowing you to immerse yourself in the show as if you were right there watching everything unfold. Weijie is a witty father, who claims to have nothing else to offer his family, except to become their shield and to protect them from harm. Laoorn, on the other hand, is a capable police chief with sharp eyes that can see through the evidence, but also a mother tormented with a missing son who she is not sure is dead or alive.
While her mother Joan Chen can act, viewers were critical of her novice actress-daughter Hui Wenshan. They even went so far as to remark that she would not even get the role if not for the reputation of her mother. Although her acting may seem soulless, like she was just reading the script, let’s not get too judgemental over the acting of a newbie.
Despite everything else looking pretty good for this Chinese crime thriller, the ending can be quite disappointing as compared to the original movie Drishyam. That film ends off with a clear-cut win for the protagonist, but Sheep Without A Shepherd takes on a more peaceful ending. While Drishyam shows one should fight back against the abuse of power and authority, Sheep Without A Shepherd changed the message into an emotional one — the love of a father for his family. Not that the emotional message is bad, but the former will make the audience feel good about the triumph of the protagonist.
Sheep Without A Shepherd is a must-watch if you fancy crime thrillers. The acting of Xiao Yang as Li Weijie and Joan Chen as Laoorn will not disappoint you. Also, remember to stay for the after-credits scene!
Sheep Without A Shepherd is 112 minutes long and rated PG13. It opens in cinemas in Singapore on 9 January.