Sheep Without a Shepherd (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2020]

A husband and father will do almost anything to protect his wife and daughter after extreme measured had to be taken to protect themselves.

Based on a previous film by Jeethu Joseph (Drishyam, from Malaysia), this version was written by Kaihua Fan, Sheng Lei, Peng Li, Yuqian Qin, Weiwei Yang, and Pei Zhai and directed by Sam Quah (credited as Boon-lip Quah), Sheep Without a Shepherd is a family drama with a touch of thriller in it. It’s a film that is all about what parents are willing to do to protect their kid, no matter what side of the law it and they fall on. The film builds the family dynamics of the leads in a way that the viewer can get attached to them before things go south and they have to do the unthinkable. Then, the story builds around the crime and the thriller aspects come into play. While this is probably not the most thrilling of film to watch, it’s engrossing in its own way and the runtime passes rather quickly as it’s being watched. The characters are what the film is all about and their willingness to protect each other shows true humanity and emotions.

The cast give solid performances with Yang Xiao as the father being the best of the bunch. His performance goes from “no worries” to strong father figure who takes control as the film advances and he gives his character something more than just a story line, he gives something that brings the viewer to him whenever he is on screen. Another strong performance, almost a scene stealer is Audrey Hui as the daughter at the center of everything. She gives strength and confidence behind a vulnerable front. There is something behind her personality in her performance that just calls to her. Also strong, but in a different manner is the performance by Zhuo Tan as the mother involved in everything. She gives her character an erased persona almost until it’s time for her to step in and be a mama bear. Her duality shows through nuances and her performances that is fascinating to watch. Of course, Joan Chen should not be left unnoticed as she is great as usual here, with a mean streak that makes her character just so unlikable that it works.

The film’s cinematography is of the best kind here, with some scenes being framed in a way that makes for great looking postcards and other scenes feeling like just the right level of darkness. This work by Ying Zhang gives the film something more, it works with the story, but it also makes some of the scenes look so good and others look so perfect for the film.

Sheep Without a Shepherd is, from what is shown, a good remake with a lot of emotions put into its runtime. Having not seen the original, it’s hard to compare the two, but as a standalone piece of cinema, it’s a very strong film. It’s the kind of film that shows what some people, in desperate times will do to survive and protect their own, but it’s also the kind of film that shows a little of what class systems and power struggles can look like.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 20th until September 2nd.