Japanese writer Keigo Higashino’s bestselling 2005 crime novel “The Devotion of Suspect X” has already spawned two film adaptations — 2008’s “Suspect X” from Japan, and 2012’s “Perfect Number” from Korea. Now, China has just released its very own rendition of the story, also named “The Devotion of Suspect X”. Directed by Taiwanese entertainer Alec Su (who’s focused his career on the mainland), this Chinese adaptation offers reliable entertainment value by sticking to a tried-and-true original recipe.
Though I haven’t read Higashino’s original novel, Su’s “The Devotion of Suspect X” seems like a pretty faithful adaptation, albeit localized to a Chinese setting. Though the characters’ names have been changed, the roles they play, and their quirks, remain pretty much the same between Su’s film, Higashino’s novel, and actually the Japanese and Korean films as well. My assumption here is that after seeing the relative commercial success of Japan’s “Suspect X”, which was one of the country’s top-grossing films in 2008, the Koreans and Chinese went “eh, let’s just do what they did and we’ll probably succeed as well”.
The standard “Suspect X” storyline all these adaptations draw from is the following. Once upon a time, a single mother accidentally kills her stalking ex-husband. Overhearing the commotion, her next-door neighbor, a reclusive math genius, comes over, discovers the situation, and uses his intelligence to cover up the murder because he’s in fond of her. When the police discover the murder, they discover an immaculate path leading away from both the mother and neighbor — until a professor who happens to be a high school friend of that math genius neighbor is pulled in to consult for the case. After digging deeper, the professor begins to suspect his old friend and becomes locked in a battle of wits with many twists and turns.
At the very least if you’re like me and haven’t read the original novel, then the film’s plot is pretty engaging. You learn pretty early on that the mother killed her ex-husband and the neighbor covered it up, but that doesn’t spoil very much. There’s multiple layers of mystery beyond that, and you have to keep watching until the end of the film to uncover them all. Maybe that’s just due to the strength of the original novel, but at the very least this Chinese adaptation doesn’t screw things up. There’s suspense, thrills, and brain candy until the very end, which should keep you reliably entertained.
The fact that “The Devotion of Suspect X” is shot in mainland China is actually somewhat interesting as well. The vast majority of “Chinese” police or murder thriller films I’ve seen have been from Hong Kong. Yes, the original Suspect X story originated from Japan, but it’s somewhat of a amusing to finally see those 公安-labeled (Public Security) Chinese police cars buzzing around for a change, not to mention features of China’s justice system (court, jail cells). This hasn’t happened too much for mainstream Chinese movies.
Overall, probably by virtue of a pretty well-thought-through source novel, “The Devotion of Suspect X” is a pretty solid piece of entertainment that is smart enough to keep both your eyes and brain engaged. It’s nothing particularly unique given there’ve already been two other film adaptations but, whether you’re looking for something to watch in theaters right now (the film has been released simultaneously in North America and China) or squished into a new Cathay Pacific 3-4-3 economy configuration in the near future, this is a great boredom-stopper.
The Devotion of Suspect X (Chinese: 嫌疑人X的献身) — China. Dialog in Mandarin. Directed by Alec Su. First released March 2017. Running time 1hr 52min. Starring Wang Kai, Zhang Luyi, Ruby Lin, Ye Zuxin, and Ding Guansen.