Deadly sweets, the mysterious death of a dog and two cops who hate each other are the seemingly far-fetched elements comically weaved together in Sweet Alibis (甜蜜殺機), the second feature by up-and-coming genre director Lien Yi-chi (連奕琦). A great improvement on Lien’s 2011 thriller Make Up (命運化妝師), the neatly executed suspense and police comedy makes brilliant use of its well-chosen cast and delivers finely crafted humor, though the suspenseful part of the film lacks enough ingenuity to engage.
Taiwanese actress and singer Ariel Lin (林依晨) plays Yi-ping, a rookie cop fresh out of the police academy and eager to prove herself in her new job. Much to her dismay, however, the young, sassy novice quickly finds out that her partner Chi-yi (Alec Su, 蘇有朋) spends more time on dating Web sites than catching bad guys, not knowing that it is an arrangement made by her father, the head of the National Police Agency, who requests to have Yi-ping assigned the most cowardly police officer so as to keep her away from danger.
Chi-yi happily complies with the order to dodge work and do nothing. While the rest of the team chase after high-profile drug dealer Snack (Matt Wu, 吳中天), the two are sent to investigate the death of a puppy, only to discover that the canine victim is killed from consuming poisoned chocolate.
A series of deaths ensue, including that of Snack, which are all caused by toxic confections. To root out the killer, Yi-ping comes up with the idea of having Snack’s identical twin and actor Matt Wu, amusingly played by Wu himself, posing as his dead brother. Gradually, the two unlikely partners learn to work together, while all evidence points to the most unexpected suspects.
Like many successful Taiwanese movies — think of Cape No. 7 (海角七號) or more recently Zone Pro Site (總舖師) — that not only focus on leads but highlight strong supporting roles, Lien’s comedy is surrounded by distinctive characters that stand out with lovable idiosyncrasies.
Wu in particular catches the attention with his twin roles that allow him to show off both his sinister and hilarious sides. Meanwhile, after years of working in China, former pop idol Su returns to the big screen with the role of a bumbler who speaks with a Taiwanese accent, likes to look at women’s cleavage, yet still maintains a sense of physical attractiveness. Su manages to bring credibility to the romantic lead, though his on-screen chemistry with Lin is somewhat short of sparks.
In the smoothly-paced comedy, characters and their motivations take precedence over mystery-solving, and crimes are committed by those driven by love. One good example involves the roles of acting veterans Lei Hong (雷洪) and Lang Tzu-yun (郎祖筠). Not to give away the fun, let’s just say that their unconventional love offers some of the film’s most luminous moments of farcical humor and melodramatic sentiment.
One thing that doesn’t stand out in the movie, however, is the element of suspense. Clues in the murder mystery are never interestingly developed and the story consequently misses the necessary twists and turns to engage the audience. Despite this flaw, Sweet Alibis makes a more than satisfying attempt at a genre which remains a weak point of Taiwanese cinema.