Sheep Without a Shepherd
Bollywood audiences know well enough by now that South-Indian cinema is a goldmine for rich original stories. Major Indian film studios have remade acclaimed Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam movies for Hindi-speaking audiences more frequently than Hollywood redoing hit 80s pictures.
One such flick, the extraordinary 2013 Malayalam thriller Drishyam, has already been adapted a number of times for various local languages in the subcontinent. Now, Drishyam’s legacy has been amplified by its landmark status of being the first Indian feature remade in China. This is a moderately successful transfer that’s undercut by an inability to confront institutional realities.
Remaining faithful to the premise of the source material, this story centres on Weijie (Xiao Yang), a modest salesclerk who spends most of his time watching movies. He particularly likes the detective genre and has no idea how his cinephilia is about to pay off in real life. At summer camp, his daughter, Pingping (Audrey Hui), meets a scandalous boy (also the son of the police chief) who seems trustworthy until he blackmails her by threatening to release compromising images.
Pingping’s mother Ayu (Tan Zhuo) discovers the danger posed to her daughter and confronts the young man. A scuffle breaks out which leaves the boy dead. Learning of this shocking event, Weijie seeks to protect his family at all costs, utilising his cinematic knowledge to navigate the process of dumping a body and building a realistic alibi as an enraged police chief pursues them.
Drishyam was grounded in the real world, highlighting the brutal tactics employed by authorities and the inequality and injustice of legal outcomes in India in relation to economic class. As a dozen patriotic idents preceding Sheep Without a Shepherd foreshadow, this version dares not to similarly examine issues in China. Apparently dirty cops don’t exist in the country, so director Sam Quah upholds this fantasy by situating his work in an entirely fictional nation. Furthermore, he has altered the third act for a safer conclusion that avoids the challenges of Jeetu Joseph’s original finale, which made its audience wrestle with tough moral questions.
Sheep Without a Shepherd is still enthralling – how could it not be, given the exceptional foundation – but it lacks the same bite. The purpose of an international remake should be to enhance a story by contextualising it in a local cultural backdrop. But Quah’s film can only exist under strict guidelines that don’t allow for similar self-assessment.
Sheep Without a Shepherd is released digitally on demand on 26th April 2021.
Watch the trailer for Sheep Without a Shepherd here: