GUILTY OF MIND (2017) review

p24577387562017 saw the release of two competing adaptations of best-sellers by Lei Mi, a teacher of criminal law whose popular character, the gifted criminal profiler Fang Mu, had already been brought to the small in screen in 2015 and 2016. Xie Dongshen’s Guilty of Mind was released first and would go on to win the box-office battle (though not by much) over Xu Jizhou’s The Liquidator. However, with both films adapted from different books in the series, they’re not so much competing as completing each other: Guilty of Mind features a young Fang Mu, still in Police School, while The Liquidator has him weathered and semi-retired; and Lei Mi’s pulpy, lurid brand of thriller is faithfully rendered onscreen in both films. Here, dogged, bitter cop Tai Wei (Liao Fan) is on the trail of a vampiric serial killer, who drains his victims of their blood and then drinks it. In an investigative dead end, Tai turns to his mentor Qiao (Chang Kuo Chu), who recommends one his best students to him: Fang Mu (Li Yifeng), a young aspiring police officer, socially awkward but gifted with an uncanny ability to instinctively profile murderers and get in their shoes. Tai is sceptical, but soon the investigation is making strides.

As a serial-killer thriller, Guilty of Mind, much like The Liquidator, takes its cues much more from the late nineties/early noughties, Se7en-inspired Hollywood trend, than its later, more grounded and cerebral, post-Zodiac evolution, or South Korea’s off-kilter and/or clockwork takes on the genre. It’s a fairly standard investigation, propelled by brilliant intuitions and serendipitous clues rather than actual procedure or deductive reasoning, peppered with clashing personalities in forced antagonism (Tai’s relentless hostility towards Fang is comically relentless and, to an extent, gratuitous), jolted by foot chases and fist fights (admittedly riveting ones, choreographed with great impact by Shim Jae-weon and Seo Seung-eok), and with a last act descent into outrageousness (spoiler: the vampiric villain has an island lair!).

And with a strong pace and slick visuals, these late-nineties fumes are a joy to inhale, though not much is bound to linger in the memory afterwards. and indeed, Li Yifeng’s aloof, wistful take on the character of Fang Mu is much less memorable than Deng Chao’s  angry bravado in The Liquidator – though in all fairness, Li plays the character as not yet grown-up, not yet fully-formed. As a result, he is outshined by Liao Fan’s sullen energy, while Wan Qian puzzlingly gets a nothing role as a forensic pathologist, there to provide dead-eyed exposition. Also cringingly plot-convenient is a drone used by Fang Mu and always popping up to save the day or provide key clues; it’s a new and unfortunate contrivance in recent films: the ‘machina ex machina’ if you will.

Long Story Short: A solidly entertaining thriller whose ludicrousness paradoxically both carries it and pulls it down. **1/2


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