Movies can be dangerous in so many ways. In Sam Quah’s Sheep Without A Shepherd, an ardent cinephile uses his vast film knowledge to commit the perfect murder. But can he get away with it?
Li Weijie (Yang Xiao) is a lower-middle-class father of two daughters. His oldest, Ping Ping (Audrey Hui), refuses to speak to him because he’s selfish and cheap. While Li Weijie is away on a business trip, she is confronted by bad boy Suchat (Bian Tian Yang). He attempts to extort Ping Ping with a video he took while the two were away at camp. One night, Suchat drugged and raped Ping Ping and recorded everything on his phone. He now wants to have sex with her while she’s conscious, or he’ll release the video.
The two meet at Ping Ping’s home, and her mother (Tan Zhuo) is there to confront him. A fight ensues, and Ping Ping inadvertently kills Suchat. When Li Weijie finds out, he rushes home to bury the body and cover up the evidence. The Li family’s problem is Suchat is the son of the police chief, Laoom (Joan Chen), and his father is a sitting Senator running for the town’s mayorship.
Li Weijie must pull every bit of wisdom to be gleaned from hundreds of crime thrillers (like The Shawshank Redemption and Montage) to protect his family. We see Li Weijie create an alibi for the entire family by going on vacation around the time Suchat went missing. He orchestras his whereabouts and coaches his family, including his 8-year-old, on how to handle a police interrogation. The idea appears to work at the start, but if it ended there, this would be a very short film.
“…must pull every bit of wisdom to be gleaned from hundreds of crime thrillers to protect his family.”
To me, the story is just brilliant and even includes side characters in fascinating ways. There’s a beat cop that hates Li Weijie because he’s an obstacle to his local extortion scheme. Suchat ‘s police chief mother and politician father use their position to build public sympathy. He also has little zingers here and there, revealing what a true film fan he is. The entire story comes off as a poor man’s Oceans 11.
If you’re a fan of crime shows like Law & Order, I think you’re going to love Sheep Without A Shepherd. It has many similar elements of police investigations along with criminal cover-ups. It’s all cat-and-mouse. Now add the fact that it was shot in Thailand; their interrogation techniques will make you glad you’re protected by things like Due Process, Unlawful Search and Seizure, and that pesky old Fifth Amendment. Cultural differences just add a heightened danger and increased sympathies for Li Weijie. The scene where the 8-year-old girl is intimidated by Joan Chen into spilling the beans is frightening and lingers with me.
I also love the visual tone of the film. It’s big and cinematic. First, there are gorgeous wide shots of Thailand. Ultra close-ups in slow motion as our heroes discover their plan might be falling apart. Amazingly the best shot was the camera pan to an unwitting witness… a goat.
The acting is top-notch for an action film. Xiao Yang carries the entire movie as the “criminal” mind and father. Joan Chen is super creepy and easily despised as Laoom. Just to add a little perspective, Sheep Without A Shepherd was one of China’s top films in 2019, handily beating Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — its only competition that weekend.
Sheep Without A Shepherd is good fun as both an action flick and a heartfelt crime-thriller at the same time. In case you were wondering, the ending is fantastic, which is traditionally problematic for thrillers in general. It wraps everything up nicely and in a satisfying way.
"…good fun being both an action flick and a heartfelt crime-thriller at the same time."