Six Suspects is a fun mystery that serves as the perfect introduction to the golden age of Taiwanese cinema, even if some aspects come off as dated.
Murder mystery movies tend to be one of the few sub-genres of film that can reliably make a modest profit at the box office and receive praise from both high-minded critics and average moviegoers. This is due to a clear conflict that is easy to follow (someone is dead and the protagonist and the audience must figure out whodunit) while also having enough room to diverge from the formula to make a movie that is both familiar and unique. Such as was the case for the multiple endings of Johnathan Lynn’s Clue and the identity of the killer being revealed in the first act of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. Since the time of Agatha Christie audiences everywhere have craved a good mystery, and Lin Tuan-Chiu’s Six Suspects, which is being shown at the Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh from September 18th through the 27th, delivers on that craving with a film stuffed to the brim of twists and turns guaranteed to make your head spin.
Six Suspects opens on Mr. Tenn (Wu Dongru), a private investigator who spends his time spying on elicit affairs then blackmailing the participants for some quick cash. His charisma is rooted in the hard-boiled protagonists of American noirs during the 1940s and 50’s, like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, who always look out for themselves first and others later. He drops by the apartment of his former girlfriend Tai-Giok (Zhang Panyang), who has recently become involved with an executive at a local steel company and recounts his recent scheme of blackmailing several officials in the company on various infidelities, including her. The scene cuts between the present in the apartment and the past of Tenn collecting his evidence and is often hard to follow due to the sheer number of characters involved. By the time the scene ends, we have a vague idea of the cast of characters, but nothing concrete to latch on to.
Shortly after this encounter, Tenn is found dead in his apartment, and the murder mystery finally begins. From here, the film follows the efforts of the police to apprehend the murderer by going through an extensive list of potential suspects which include two petty criminals who pop up throughout the flashbacks, his roommate who which he frequently came to blows with, everyone he was blackmailing, and two or three jealous women. One by one, each of the suspects is interrogated, and, while none of them are saints, each of them had an alibi on the night of the murder, leaving our dedicated cops with no leads and still 35 minutes left in the runtime. This act of the film is considerably more focused than the first, and incorporates elements of noir and melodrama that make for a fun viewing experience.
But, like all good mystery stories, there is a twist. Once the trail runs cold, another suspect enters the picture whom the police should have investigated ages ago but conveniently forgot about. Without giving too much away, the final act of the film is a textbook procedural drama, with a few carefully thought out but standard twists that wouldn’t feel out of place on a network TV show. It isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks that special twist that makes films like Clue and Knives Out really shine. When the end credits finally roll, we feel the same way we would after an episode of Bones or Psych: satisfied, but not blown away. All of the performances are good to great, with Tenn being the standout, and the production values are solid for the time. In the end, Six Suspects adheres to the tropes of the genre too much to be considered great, though it is a great entry point into classic Taiwanese cinema.
Six Suspects was screened from 18th-27th September as part of the Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.