‘The Killer Who Never Kills’ (2011, Taiwanese) review

Directed by: Jimmy Wan, @apple
Screenplay: Giddens Ko
Cast: Jam Hsiao, Zai Zai Lin, Chrissie Chau, Eric Tsang, Jeffrey Huang

The Killer Who Never Kills is a Taiwanese mobster film with a difference. Jam Hsiao plays a young assassin who goes by the name of Ouyang Bonsai (because of his love of potted plants) who takes over his uncle Tricky’s (played by Eric Tsang) job as hitman for local mob boss Jeff (played by Jeffrey Huang). Ouyang is a softie who hates killing people, and so with a posse of conspirators – Nana (played by Chrissie Chau), a gorgeous hacker girl; an insurance salesman (played by Ma Nian Xian); Quan, a mortuary doctor (played by veteran actor Cheung Kwok Chu) – he fakes the death of each of his hits and helps them start a new life. Fake corpses are cooked up by Quan, Nana creates fake IDs for the assassination targets to go underground in the future, and the insurance salesman – with a bit of fraud paperwork – takes out insurance policies in their name which allows Ouyang’s team to cash in from the fake hits. This cosy arrangement starts unravelling when Ouyang falls in love with Xiaou Li (played by Zai Zai Lin) and the mob boss wants revenge when finds out that he’s been short-shrifted all along.

Asian mob dramas tend to be moody and dramatic. What makes The Killer Who Never Kills such a refreshing watch is that it effortlessly switches gears throughout its plot: there are times when it’s serious, times when it’s an overly-dramatic action film (with heavy rock guitar riffs), times when it resorts to slapstick comedy, times when it’s a tender romantic film. The cinematography is superb with artsy angles and slick editing: one scene in particular, where a corpse is being transported in a bright yellow recycling bin stuck out for me as an iconic scene of how clever the cinematography is. The tone is playful too, with action scenes shot like as if it were a video game, or scenes filmed as if it were a music video (thanks, no doubt, to oddly-named music video director @pple, who shares directing credit with Jimmy Wan), or Ouyang the assassin being chased by a target – a middled-aged lady – throwing lettuce leaves at him. It’s this blend of a playful screenplay, clever cinematography, and effortless mishmash of genres that made this film a fun watch for me.

Rating: 8 / 10


I saw this film when I was in Taiwan last year. It seemed incredibly popular as it played to a packed theatre. No doubt because it was the début performance of Jam Hsiao, who came into popular limelight after he won a reality TV singing contest in Taiwan. There’s a reference to this in the film too in the closing credits, where Ouyan Bonsai becomes a reality TV show singer – perhaps not the best idea for someone who’d pissed off the mob and trying to live life on the down low.

Man, did I get stared at a lot in the theatre. Everyone from the box office salesperson to the popcorn counter guy to the people in the theatre stared at me when they saw a brown guy walk into a Chinese film screening. It was goo fun though! I felt like re-watching this now after writing a travel piece on Taipei street food for The Stag.

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