Taiwan Film Festival: “Six Suspects”

Year: 1965
Duration: 108 min.
Director: Lin Tuan-Chiu

By Caz Armstrong

With wall-to-wall plot twists and intrigue, “Six Suspects” is an Agatha Christie-esque “anyone-coulda-dunnit” that’s an absolute delight. It’s atmospheric and dramatic, and when every single character has a huge secret to hide, there’s no end of fun to be had trying to work out who the culprit could be.

“Six Suspects” is a Taiwanese Hoklo language film made in 1965 that was not released in cinemas because director Lin Tuan-Chiu sadly wasn’t satisfied with it.

It was filmed during the decades-long period of the “White Terror (白色恐怖)” when Taiwan was ruled under martial law, during which thousands of people were imprisoned and executed. So the pro-police, anti-crime political message couldn’t be any clearer. In fact, it’s written on the screen at the very start, stating that “we’re well protected by the police, and that justice comes slowly but surely. Crime doesn’t pay.”

Some of these characters are excellently played with the subtlest of nuance, and some just punch nuance in the face and ham up their performances as though part of an amateur dramatic society.

But it’s definitely not a heavy-handed or one-dimensional clobber of a film. It spends around half of the running time setting up a whole host of well-constructed characters before we even meet a police officer. Our main protagonist for the majority of the film is a sneering master criminal ne’er-do-well.

Opening with a moody jazz score, the film drives through the streets of 1960’s Taipei in the shadow of night. We follow Tenn Kong-Hui , a shady blackmailer who skulks around spying on other people’s corrupt affairs. He approaches his ex, Tan Tai-Giok, and reveals he knows about her romantic affair. While chuckling and tapping his fingertips together with glee, he demands money from her.

He then spies on and blackmails multiple people, threatening to expose their various affairs, acts of bribery, and corporate corruption.

When he is later found dead in his home, the police investigate. Everyone who was under his thumb is now a suspect in his death, and the police must rule out each suspect until they find the real culprit. 

Connections between characters are as tangled as a plate of spaghetti. Siblings, parents, fiancées, cousins, lovers, and unrequited loves all weave together to create as much mess as possible for the police to untangle. 

Despite the opening preamble about the police, the officers are actually a bit two-dimensional and there merely to serve a functional purpose. The real depth is in the nefarious blackmailer and the hidden desires and secret dealings of his many victims.

Some of these characters are excellently played with the subtlest of nuance, and some just punch nuance in the face and ham up their performances as though part of an amateur dramatic society. What else does one do when they’ve been poisoned but grab at their throat, bulge their eyes, and keel over with a window-rattling choke?

This propensity for high dramatics makes the film an absolute hoot, albeit perhaps unintentionally. It seems like all the actors had a lot of fun during filming, and it is completely joyous to watch.

Viewers need to pay keen attention if they’re to stand any chance of following all the shady deals and affairs. I admit to resorting to a pen and paper so that I could properly keep track. But it is very much worth it to get the full experience. You won’t be left for more than a few minutes without a new shocking revelation to enjoy.

By the end, I was yelling at the screen with delight, and I very much hope you do too.

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