Fantasia 2020: ‘Sheep Without a Shepherd’ Review: A Stellar Thriller About the Necessity of Self-Abdication

A man sits in a car looking out the front window driver's seat
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A sacrificial lamb is a creature who is the most innocent and has the least to lose, and Sheep Without a Shepherd is about the sacrifices made to benefit society and our loved ones. In Sam Quah’s directorial debut — a retelling of the Indian film Drishyam — we meet Li Weijie (Yang Xiao), a Chinese immigrant in Thailand living with his wife and two daughters. He’s a working-class family man, and consistent: he travels around the city as a repairman, eats loyally at his friend’s noodle shop every day, and is a film buff able to deconstruct any mystery crime plot.

Weijie is comfortable with his routine and doesn’t come from money or an academic background, everything he does is for the benefit of his family and acquaintances. Friends know him to be generous, and his clients know him for his leniency and understanding in regards to their financial burdens. Weijie’s life is typically stress-free, but when his daughter is assaulted by the police chief and mayoral candidate’s son, things turn for the worse. In self-defense, Pingping (Wenshan Xu), the aforementioned daughter, kills her upper-class attacker, and the family is encumbered with the trauma and cover-up of this crime.

Sheep Without a Shepherd can be classified as a detective drama, a thriller, and a commentary on class. Their friends attest to the Li family’s apparant innocence, but police chief La Wen (Joan Chen) is relentless in her accusation of their involvement, as is local policeman Sang Kun (Ming-Shuai Shih), who is explosive, confrontational, and uses his position of power to scam and instill fear into the locals.

Sheep Without a Shepherd runs for almost two hours but maintains a fast-paced, anxiety-ridden tone and story that eventually has you asking: what does it mean to sacrifice? Was Suchat, the son of La Wen, sacrificed to reveal the abusive police force and power structure of the town? Are the Li family made a sacrificial example by the persistent interrogation and harassment they face? 

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Yang Xiao’s performance is one of the most intriguing. His character is equally hardworking and trustworthy, and to be feared because of his scheming ways. He utilizes his vast knowledge of detective films to construct the perfect alibi for his family and stay ahead of La Wen and her intimidating intuition as an investigator. All the while, La Wen’s stoic presence falters as we move through the film. She transforms from an omnipotent authority figure, to a crumbling woman willing to disrupt the lives of the Li’s in order to have a grasp on the elusive truth. Mother and wife A Yu (Zhuo Tan) mirrors the strenuous sacrifice of motherhood and will do anything to protect her daughter. And the youngest member of the family, An An, played by young actress Xiran Zhang, is relied on to stick to the family’s alibi despite her age.

Sheep Without a Shepherd is solid in its framework: Weijie must be the rock of his family in order to keep them safe and maintain their sanity. His calculating nature is not out of malice, but necessity, and in turn, he is the one making the most sacrifices throughout each part of his carefully fabricated alibi. In the final act, the film utilises the tension of slow, creeping shots to piece his plan together in view of the audience, and La Wen’s aggressive investigation comes to a finale when the working class locals come together to lead without the corrupted shepherds, and in doing so, show what it means to make selfless sacrifices for the sake of others.

Nia Tucker

Nia Tucker is an undergrad at Emerson College studying Writing, Literature and Publishing. You can find more of her work — personal essays and race-related features — at niatuckwrites.wordpress.com.

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