Udine 2014 Review: SWEET ALIBIS, An Uneven But Wacky Taiwanese Genre Film

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
After recovering from a depression that lasted for over 10 years Taiwanese cinema is gradually gaining recognition, mostly due to the rising popularity of its many touching dramas and promising independent productions. That said, such specific, if wacky, genre mixtures like Sweet Alibis are relatively difficult to come by.

Hardly a picture that will find a bigger audience worldwide, Yi-chi Lien's third full-length feature (although second to be shown on the big screen) is nevertheless a crime comedy that drifts between its highs and its lows with enough determination to make the whole murder-cum-slapstick affair seem entertaining even when some less appropriate jokes take control of the proceedings.

Sweet Alibis clearly pokes fun at its own indiscreetly cliché-driven narrative, but does it somewhat consciously so the final effect doesn't really strike as tedious, but rather fairly laughable. Though the humor often verges on being preposterous, it's fortunately more farcical than crude. Some jokes, like the ones highlighted by the quirky chemistry between the cop protagonists Chi-yi (Alex Su) and Yi-ping (Ariel Lin), have enough dynamism to put a smile on one's face, whereas others, like the pointlessly repeated gags about police chief's gastric troubles, send the comedy a couple of decades back to a time when something similarly silly might've been appreciated (however not likely).

Unexpectedly paired to take care of a seemingly undemanding case, the aforementioned characters realize that there's more to a foolish puppy-killing incident than meets the eye. Things start spinning out of control as soon as they stumble upon a trail that links the dead dog to a drug dealer who's also big film star Matt Wu's twin brother (both roles played by the real Matt Wu), a mysteriously lethal chocolate, and a group of gay gangsters. And it perhaps wouldn't be as unusual if not for the fact that among cheerfully harmonious thugs is a transgender individual who's also the deadliest member of the whole crew.

Although one of the smartest and most loyal troops in the force, Chi-yi is deemed inoperative because of his inability to fire a gun when needed, and is thus always assigned to ground-level cases. Being police chief's precious daughter, Yi-ping can't make use of her serious, no-nonsense attitude and in consequence has to deal with equally trivial matters. Unforeseen circumstances give them a chance to show their skills (or often lack of them), but when a crucial moment comes the film's goofy disposition unnecessarily messes with their personalities, and in the long run character development seems slightly scattershot.

Ultimately, it's Matt Wu and Lang Tsu-yun (as the transsexual Rita) who turn in the most amusing performances. Wu makes great use of the "mistaken identity" theme, while Lang tackles his revenge plan with much vigor and persistence, and even sings a little in a bizarrely farcical scene.

With the help of many recurring thematic variations the picture shift its tone from mysterious and dark to comical and lighthearted. The one that prevails, however, is definitely the latter, even if the hilariously knotty storyline tries to pack as many elements taken straight out of a crime film as it possibly can. Like pieces of a bigger puzzle the film collects plot elements jumping to scenes in a disorderly fashion, but nevertheless manages to keep track of all the details and on its way to a familiar hospital-set finale.

Sweet Alibis takes common genre tropes to the extreme, casually playing around with many conventional ideas up to a point that it's actually difficult to name all of them. Nonetheless, it still succeeds in keeping the entertainment at a perfectly decent level.

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