A remake of his own successful Korean thriller Blind (2011), Ahn Sang-hoon’s The Witness transposes the action to China but keeps much of the original film’s key plot points. Xing (Yang Mi) is a young cop who lost her brother in a car accident. She blames herself for the tragedy, as she had tied her unruly sibling’s hands in the car to keep him still, leading to his eventual inability to escape the car as it teetered on the edge of a bridge. She also lost her eyesight in the accident, which means she can’t be a cop anymore, and leads a dour, guilt-ridden life. One day she gets into a cab whose driver turns out to be a psychopath (Zhu Yawen) who’s behind a wave of abductions, with all the victims being beautiful young women. As Xing struggles to break free of the driver, the cab hits someone who was crossing the street, and she manages to escape. The next day she reports the incident to the police, and astounds the detective in charge of the investigation (Wang Jingchun) with her astute observations on her would-be abductor : though she’s blind, her astute remaining senses and sharp deduction skills allow her to provide useful information. But soon thereafter a young skater, Chong (LuHan), turns up at the police station : he says he’s witnessed the incident, but his indications don’t match Xing’s. As a wayward youngster his testimony doesn’t weigh much more than that of the blind woman, but things become urgent when Xing realizes she’s dropped her diary in the psychopath’s car, and he may now be stalking her.
With its traumatized hero, ludicrously-motivated psychopath, grumpy but efficient old cop and protracted stalk and slash scenes, The Witness is a textbook 90s Hollywood thriller, except it was made in China in the 2010s. There is absolutely nothing new to be found here : even the CGI flourishes to visually render Xing’s enhanced senses are right out of Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil (2003). Still, Ahn Sang-hoon does serve up these familiar elements with enough conviction and competence, and at a crisp enough pace, to make the film a passable little thriller. There’s even a genuinely exciting set piece where Xing is chased by the psychopath, who is himself chased by Chong, who at the same time gives Xing direction via a video call with which she films what’s in front of her. It’s barely credible but breathless and exciting nevertheless. It helps that Yang Mi is an appealing lead, perfectly embodying her character’s mix of strength and vulnerability. An interesting aspect of Xing is that while made fragile by her blindness, she’s actually a good fighter, which means she can still bust a hard-hitting move when the villain gets too close.
Her guide dog Cong Cong, a genial golden retriever, is also interestingly treated as character rather than a prop, which leads to a rather touching moment that does justice to the special kind of bond that can exist between a dog and its owner, and all the more so between a help-dog and the human who relies on it. Wang Jingchun makes the most of his stock detective role with a salty and warm performance, but it’s clear that teen-heartthrob and singer LuHan is there to attract a demographic rather than to stretch as a budding actor. He’s never annoying and has a few heartfelt moments, but there’s a whole tacked-on subplot about Xing’s dead brother having been a rising singer, and Chong being a enthusiastic fan of his. In fact (spoiler coming) the film ends with a full concert performance of the late singer’s famous song, performed by Chong, who’s not only become a surrogate little brother to Xing, but has also replaced her late brother in the band. It’s not only an improbable plot turn but it’s also a cringeworthy sight : a serviceable thriller hijacked in its final reel by teenage pandering.
Long Story Short : The Witness is a trite but competent thriller, held afloat by Yang Mi’s appealing performance and a few interesting touches. **1/2