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STUDIO: Music Box Films
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 185 minutes
• Making of
A mass murder in Sweden sparks a centuries old revenge business deal with swords and whatever.
Directed by Peter Keglevic, based on the novel by Henning Mankell, starring Suzanne von Borsody, Michael Nyqvist, Amy Cheng, and Claudia Micheleson.
When 18 people are found massacred in a sleepy Swedish village, a local judge sets out to discover the motive, the killer, and how it all relates to her family. This three hour convoluted mess is at least a well-crafted mess with a capable director and actors.
Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell is best known for his acclaimed Kurt Wallander mystery novels. These were adapted for UK TV, starring Kenneth Branagh as the titular inspector Wallander, and were also a smashing success. Unfortunately, the adaptation of his post-Wallander novel The Man From Beijing isn’t very good at all. I’ve never read the source novel, but if it’s as convoluted and painfully slow as the adaptation, then my heart goes out to anyone who did.
I prefer slow-burning thrillers over speeding trains as much as the next guy, but The Man From Beijing is a three hour mess of flaccid suspense and cheap twists. It starts out pretty damn engaging: 18 people in a remote Swedish village have been found slaughtered. It appears they’ve all been killed in the night with a sword. No witnesses, no one heard any screaming, no nothing. As luck would have it, all 18 people are in some way related to local judge Birgitta Roslin (Suzanne von Borsody).
The stubborn (yet cute) inspector in charge of the investigation isn’t revealing any information to Roslin, who logically fears she’s the killers next target. At first the inspector won’t even tell her if one of the 18 victims is her parents (there were two survivors, but they aren’t important to the story at all). Roslin decides to use her judge superpowers (deductive reasoning!) and contacts to investigate the murder herself. You’d think this is where the story picks up but it’s sadly opposite day in Sweden.
This made for TV thriller is split it up into two 90-minute installments. By the end of the first one the killer is revealed and, thanks to some repetitive flashbacks, we can pretty much figure out his motivation. Roslin’s encounter with the culprit in a hotel is pretty fun even though it doesn’t fit into the film’s moody vibe. It’s actually my favorite part of the whole three hours. The scene feels like it was pulled out of slasher film, with the knife-wielding baddie unable to be stopped even by bullets and smoke inhalation.
From there Roslin travels to Beijing and the film cranks up the extraneous international intrigue. This is where the film stops being boring and starts getting tortuous. The story moves back and forth from the present to 1865 Nevada, where one of Roslin’s ancestors is a railroad fatcat beating and abusing the Chinese men working for him. This is, of course, tied to the revenge murders of the present. There’s also a giant security firm involved and a land deal between South Africa and China that I couldn’t have cared less about. I’m not even sure why those lousy sub-plot matters.
Overall The Man From Beijing is a well-crafted bore. Austrian director Peter Keglevic is a seasoned vet with over 40 titles under belt. Here he makes the most of a poor story by injecting it with loads of brooding atmosphere and stark Swedish landscapes. There’s some great camerawork too, particularly when Roslin is being chased through the narrow alleys of Beijing. The actors give it their all too. Suzanne von Borosdy and Michael Nyqvist are fantastic. But it’s not enough. They can’t save the achingly dull story. Stay away from this one, folks.
The Man From Beijing is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. Maybe it was because the disc I received was a screener, but there were some glaring compression issues during the first half. This is a dark film and unfortunately the contrast isn’t that hot. The blacks seem to consume the colors at times (that sounds racist, sorry). The 5.1 dolby digital German audio track is fine.
The DVD I received was a screener and did not include any special features. The DVD box does read “The Making of The Man From Beijing” so I assume that’s what you get when you buy it.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars