ContactSales: Le Vision Pictures, Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 13 July 2012.
Presented by Le Vision Pictures (CN), Sil-Metropole Movie (CN). Executive producers: Zhang Zhao, Song Dai. Producer: Fruit Chan.
Script: Sheng Zhimin, Liu Ya. Photography: Kim Hyeong-gu. Music: Huang Shaofeng. Art direction: Lü Dong. Costume design: Zhao Tong. Styling: Sean Kunjambu. Sound: Hao Teda, Ji Jing. Action: Gwon Gwi-deok.
Cast: Tong Dawei (Chen Wei), Vivian Gan (Tang Lin/Gemini), Eric Qin (Zhao Pin/Taurus), Kimi Qiao (Chen Xiaofeng/Libra), Ada Liu (Cui Miao/Scorpio), Hito Du (Zhou Kang/Leo), Song Ning (Xu Gaoshan/Pisces), Zhang Diaohan (doctor), Wang Jingchun (Tang Lin's agent), Cao Shiping (old security guard), Qin Zihan (Xiao Qin), Sun Lingsheng (seller), Rong Fei (Tang Jianzhong), Liu Wenqing (young Chen Wei), Hu Xinyuan (young Tang Lin), Jing Yuan (Xiao Yu), Kang Shengwen (young Zhao Pin), Liu Jieyi (young Chen Xiaofeng), Li Yichen (young Cui Miao), He Ruiwen (young Zhou Kang), Tan Xiao (young Xu Gaoshan).
The Zodiac Mystery 十二星座離奇事件
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 100 mins
Directed by Sheng Zhimin (盛志民)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 04 August 2012, 10:00 AM (HKT)
A chaotic script and toneless direction sink this wannabe then-there-were-none whodunit. Asian and genre events at best.
Jiangsu province, China, the present day. Well-known author Tang Lin (Vivian Gan) returns to her canal-side hometown and is surprised to see a bookshop display for a new novel by her, Zodiac Bizarre Incident (十二星座離奇事件). When she tells her agent (Wang Jingchun) she never wrote such a novel, and accuses him of using a ghostwriter, he says the manuscript was sent from her address. (The novel is about a group of childhood friends - each representing a sign of the zodiac - who are brought together 12 years later by the ghost of one of their group, Xiao Yu [Jing Yuan], who fell to his death and blames them for the incident; Xiao Yu tells them he is going to play a game in which all but one of them will die.) At a reunion of the friends, they express their surprise at the book, as they thought Tang Lin had retired from writing two years ago. The begin to wonder whether they will all die, as in the novel. Chen Wei (Tong Dawei), who is now a psychotherapist specialising in hypnotism, is pleased to see Tang Lin again, with whom he used to be a close friend. Cui Miao (Ada Liu), whose character Scorpio dies first in the novel, tells Xu Gaoshan (Song Ning), with whom she has had an affaire, that she still feels guilty about blaming Chen Wei for Xiao Yu's death. Soon afterwards, she's killed in a car accident that is witnessed by taxi driver Zhao Pin (Eric Qin) and professional illusionist Chen Xiaofeng (Kimi Qiao) as they drive to meet Tang Lin at her flat one day. Soon afterwards, Xiaofeng is killed when one of his stage illusions malfunctions. Tang Lin tells Chen Wei that in the novel she is the next to die, and says only she can find out who wrote the book.
The only mystery about The Zodiac Mystery 十二星座離奇事件 is how it ever got to be made. Of interest for being the first mainstream movie by Beijing-born SHENG Zhimin 盛志民 — best known for his atmospheric but very downbeat drama Bliss 浮生 (2006) that toured festivals — Zodiac proves once again that it isn't easy to make genre movies. Set in a picturesque canal town in Jiangsu, the film has excellent widescreen photography by ace South Korean d.p. KIM Hyeong-gu 김형구 | 金炯求 (Memories of Murder 살인의 추억 (2003), The Host 괴물 (2006), CHEN Kaige 陳凱歌's Together 和你在一起 (2002)) that earns it an extra point, plus a largely OK cast led by TONG Dawei 佟大為 (The Flowers of War 金陵十三釵 (2011)). However, the script is chaotically organised and hardly makes sense; and, except in flashbacks to the characters' youth, Sheng's direction seems to have no idea how to evoke the least suspense or even how to stage basic scenes.
Zodiac starts as a then-there-were-none murder mystery in which a group of childhood friends begin dying off, just as in a novel supposedly written by one of them. But as the story broadens, the movie simply loses track of what it is meant to be. Aside from the lack of any overall tone, Sheng throws everything into the pot: some softcore sex, a smidgeon of costume fetishism, scenes of mental illness, straight melodrama, stabs of comedy, a film-within-a film, occasional zodiac gobbledygook, and whodunit visual cliches. With a decent script and dialogue, even all of that may have worked; but Zodiac isn't even fun on a trashy level. In her first leading role, Vivian GAN 甘薇 (Welcome to Shamatown 決戰剎馬鎮 (2010)) is unbelievable on every level; Tong is so-so in a poorly written role, and is often outclassed by more characterful actors like Eric QIN 秦昊 (Tokyo Newcomer 初到東京 | 東京に来たばかり) and SONG Ning 宋寧.
Produced by Hong Kong's Fruit CHAN 陳果, for whom Sheng has worked as a line producer and writer, Zodiac is only the director's third fiction feature in a decade. The film bears no relation to Ann HUI 許鞍華's equally iffy, Tokyo-set drama Zodiac Killers 極道追蹤 (1991).