Review: FAIRY TALE KILLER is Another Pang Nightmare
When discussing the careers of the Pang Brothers, it doesn't take long before you start repeating yourself. After a couple of promising Thai thrillers, Danny and his twin brother Oxide scored a massive international hit with 2002's The Eye - and, whether working together or separately, have been struggling to match that success ever since. They have come close on occasion. I think there's a fair amount to appreciate in 2006's re-teaming with Oxide's off-screen partner Lee Sinje, Re-Cycle, and their Bangkok-based cop thriller The Detective, starring Aaron Kwok, also has plenty going for it. Outside of these few entries, however, the brothers' prolific back catalogue is largely devoid of pedigree.
Despite all this, I still find myself giving the Pangs the benefit of the doubt, despite not liking any of their last dozen or so releases. Many wrote them off years ago, with their harshest critics labelling them one-hit wonders and nothing more. While I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say I anticipate a new Pang Brothers film, I will almost certainly take the time to watch it, but then almost always leave genuinely disappointed by its failure to impress or even deliver a competent cinematic experience. But then their next film comes around and again I feel a misguided sense of hope that this time they'll re-capture their early success.
Fairy Tale Killer is a solo directorial effort from Danny Pang, the less prolific of the two brothers, who also takes a writer's credit along with three others, including notable thriller scribe Szeto Kam Yuen. The film's premise takes its cues from David Fincher's Seven, and in doing so already feels a decade or so after-the-fact before it even begins. Lau Ching Wan plays Inspector Wong, a downtrodden copper long overdue a promotion, who is faced with a string of brutal murders resembling scenes from children's fairy tales.
When the film opens, he is interrogating the noticeably unhinged Wu (Wang Baoqiang), who has walked into their precinct and confessed to the murder of his neighbour. However, when Wong goes to investigate he finds the victim, Cheung Fai (Lam Suet) alive and well. They have no option but to let Wu go, only for Cheung Fai to turn up dead the following morning, with a bellyful of large rocks. When evidence at the scene appears to confirm Wu as the killer, Wong has his men cover it up as he fears being reprimanded by the Chief Inspector, who already has Wong's team under investigation for corruption and leaking Intel.
At home, Wong's situation is no better. He has an autistic son whom he struggles to communicate with, and a highly-strung wife (Joey Meng) who channels all her frustrations back onto her husband. Wong feels trapped and suffocated, with no clear escape route in sight. The only thing he knows for sure is that he let a killer slip through his fingers and, when a second body turns up in a shopping mall together with Wu's signature mark of the "Wolf", he is determined to nail him one way or another.
While its set-up may smack of a second tier Hollywood thriller from the end of the last millennium, Fairy Tale Killer should have enough creepy gothic elements already in place to deliver a fair number of standard thrills. However, in the hands of Danny Pang, the film never establishes any kind of mood or atmosphere and repeatedly relies on ear-splitting audio cues and a ridiculously over-the-top score to deliver jumps and scares, rather than anything actually up on screen. The story fails at its most basic level, by presenting a hero who is both a terrible cop and a lousy family man. Lau Ching Wan, who has proved in the past he can spin the lousiest material into a likable or at least interesting performance, seems completely lost here, stumbling around with as little clue about what is going on as the audience. Making Lau look bad on screen is an achievement in itself, and one Pang achieves with remarkably little effort.
Likewise, Wang Baoqiang has proved he has impressive range in the past, but as the devilish serial killer Wu, can do nothing but howl and gurn on cue. His character is presented as a mentally disturbed orphan who finds shelter in the service of the mysterious Yue Yee (Elanne Kwong), another formal mental patient who now scrawls feverishly on the walls of her dank apartment (much the way Wong's son does all over the family home). One minute Wu is literally unable to spit his words out or stand up straight, such is his crippling condition and devotion to Yue Yee, while the next he is drawing Wong and his team into a series of intricately conceived traps and games that would take half a dozen sane men to operate on any other day.
On top of all this, for a film entitled Fairy Tale Killer, precious little care or attention is put into showing off these seemingly elaborate deaths that correspond to stories that haunt Wu's inner child. The first death recreates that timeless children's favourite The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. A little obscure perhaps, but it is from the Brothers Grimm. The second fairy tale is only fleetingly acknowledged but approximates the climax of Hansel and Gretel. After that we have nods to The Red Shoes and finally Cinderella, but by this stage the relevance of these particular stories (or even how the deaths actually correspond to them) has been pushed far into the background. Not once do these stories prove of any real importance to the killer's motives, or play to any of our hero's insecurities. They are, ultimately, completely without purpose.
Fairy Tale Killer is so bad it makes Roy Chow's recent disaster Nightfall look like Manhunter. The film squanders its normally reliable lead actors, fumbles its central plot device and is unable even to produce a few simple scares or serviceable action beats along the way. The film is cheap, dull and largely nonsensical, and just watching it is as strenuous as dragging a dead body through a field of barbed wire during a rainstorm (never again!). It all culminates in an utterly absurd finale that falls somewhere between an episode of "The Crystal Maze" and a game of "Mousetrap", but by getting that far means that Danny Pang has already won.