The namesake in the mandarin title is a 5th century Chinese fable, Zhou Chu Eradicates the Three Evils. The story goes like this: local hoodlum and public enemy #1 Zhou Chu sets out to rid the town of three evil beings who have been terrorising everyone. First, is a vicious tiger and next comes a fiery dragon. He spends 3 days battling the dragon and ultimately kills the dragon. When he returns to town, he sees the villagers celebrating as they thought he had died with the dragon. In that moment, Zhou realises the third evil is him and he decides to change his ways, becoming an upright man of integrity. Eventually, he becomes a great general who dies on the field of battle.
The Pig, the Snake and the Pigeon (2023) adheres to the fable only in spirit and the protagonist possesses no noble aspirations. Chen Gui-lin (Ethan Juan) is in hiding after committing a series of brazen assassinations of triad bosses. Detective Chen Hui (Lee Lee-zen) is always close on the heels of Gui-lin but the latter is always one step ahead. When Gui-lin’s grandmother passes away and he learns from Chang Kuei-ching (Hsieh Chiung-hsuan), a medicine provider for the criminal underworld, that he has stage four lung cancer, he decides to turn himself in. At the police station, he realises he is just number three on the most wanted list. There and then, he decides to go out in a blaze of glory by taking out the top two since he has nothing to lose. In the midst of taking out Hsu Wei-chiang (Ben Yuen), he will cross path with Cheng Hsiao-mei (Gingle Wang). It is in eliminating the second scourge Lin Lu-ho (Chen Yi-wen) that Gui-lin’s moral compass starts to waver.
I was attracted to the movie because of the poster. It looks so incongruous – a man in handcuffs, with a gun pointed at his head, guffawing without a care in the world. Plus, it was feted with 7 Golden Horse nominations (the results will be announced later this month).
Let me start with all the perceived negatives: this is a movie of two distinct halves with such a stark change in tone that it will make you feel like you are watching two movies. Hence, you might feel it’s disjointed and incoherent. The movie does little in fleshing out secondary characters and doesn’t even flesh out Gui-lin’s character beyond the observation that he has a conscience and is capable of being good. But make no mistake, Gui-lin is a bad guy. Perhaps he is a good bad guy because the other two are way off on the extreme right end of the good-evil line.
For me, the movie worked even with all the perceived flaws because of its audacity in changing the tone so drastically. I was so engrossed in the intense opening chase sequence and the cat-and-mouse games when Gui-lin dispatches the first scumbag (Ben Yuen is despicably great) that I was thinking how can this be topped. Suddenly, the tone and pace changed but the goodwill generated from the first half smoothed it out for me and I had faith that writer-director Wong Ching-po is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and he does. The twists and turns in this act are great and it is a timely scene because of the scams happening day in and day out every day.
The dark comedy that permeates this scene which features a cult hits the spot. It is an ultra-violent scene but a veiled layer of absurdity just manages to numb the impact of the violence and I have to confess I was laughing away as Gui-lin kills his way to the last guitar-strumming and singing numbskull. Maybe I need psychiatric help but that would make two of us because Choo was also giggling away. The nihilism is shocking but I dare you not to laugh as the brainwashed vegans get their brains blown out. This is a feat not easy to achieve.
Ethan Juan commands his scenes remarkably well as a trigger-happy simpleton and his performance easily garners sympathy. “I’m not afraid of death,” he says in one scene, “I’m afraid that people don’tname!” There is economy in the way his character is portrayed without a need for any backstory.
The other characters pale in comparison except for the two scumbags. Hsiao-mei is a pretty face that requires a full-on rescue by Gui-lin and detective Chen Hui feels so under-developed.
The movie might have its flaws but it is immensely entertaining with an ending that is thoughtful and poignant. In a sea of crime genre movies, this one dares to forge a different path which is a refreshing take on a tired genre. All eyes will be on Ethan Juan if he can pick up a second Best Actor Golden Horse Award.
4 / 5
PS – When I saw this in the theatre, there were only 3 patrons including me and my wife. I have no idea how the cinema is going to stay relevant. Soon, the only movies screened in the theatres will be big budget action movies. A shame really because this is a good movie.