A star high school pitcher who just signed to an American major league team’s farm system is convicted of killing his rich girlfriend, who wanted to come with him from Taiwan to the U.S. Years later, he busts out of prison, and a former star TV reporter now hunting for eyeballs online decides to help him prove his innocence for the most cynical motives.
That’s the plot of “The Post-Truth World,” a slow but somewhat absorbing whodunit from Taiwan.
Edward Chen of “Your Name Engraved Herein” plays the hothead Zhang Zheng-yi, a kid with the world by the tail when we meet him at a Taiwanese stadium, free-spending and optimistic about the near future until he finds out his girl, Wang Shi-yun (Tzu Hsuan Chan), has assured her rich father that she’ll attend college close to home.
So…you’re not moving to America with me?
What happened after that is a blur of bloody crime scene photos, breathless “ballpark lovers murder” TV news coverage and a frenzy of eyewitnesses describing his temper, his state of mind and his guilt on that night in 2012.
Hsiao-chuan Chang (“The Big Call”) plays Liu Li-min, a TV reporter still remembered for hosting “Dissecting the Society” back in the day. In the film’s fictive present (2019), he’s an online reporter trying to stay above water at True News, where he’s brought his motto — “The news matters, the truth matters more” — but not his audience.
He’s a single dad whose social media savvy teen (Caitlin Fang) tries to help him generate pageviews and subscribers, to little avail. But when he shows up at a prison to interview an aged mobster, he’s the last to figure out he’s a pawn in a prison break involving Zhang.
Liu has the good sense to live-stream his kidnapping and their get away. And after Zhang ditches him, he resolves to follow this story, because that’s where the eyeballs are. He’ll re-investigate that years-ago “ballpark lovers” crime and “prove” his onetime kidnapper’s innocence.
“How did I make it look?” (in Mandarin with English subtitles) he asks his kid after one breathless stand-up. Liu is all-in on this story, which could go viral and save his professional bacon.
But as he digs in, conflicting accounts arise along with seriously suspicious behavior by onetime witnesses. Threats and deaths follow.
Neither he nor we ever consider the possibility that this is Zhang’s vendetta. But other media coverage hangs onto that “convicted killer on the loose” narrative as the case envelopes love, lies, drugs and wealth, with our definitely-violent-now fugitive and his reporter/savior crossing paths repeatedly as new evidence comes to light, old evidence convinces the cops they were right and our reporter crosses ethical and moral lines, further muddying the viewer’s sense of “truth.”
There’s a lot to keep track of here as this “crime” and its context shift and shift again with each new point of view. Liu’s dead wife (Aviis Zhong) was a reporter on another case that figured into events that night, revisited in flashback. The victim’s rich family intrigues further complicate matters.
Director If Chen (“The Long Night”) keeps things straight even as he struggles to keep this story on its feet and moving. Only a chase or two and the odd blast of violence, from the original crime scene in flashback or Zhang or Liu’s present day efforts to “prove” his innocence, only a fight to fend off the police who want to catch the fugitive — his “prove my innocence” quest be damned — liven up the proceedings.
The script does a better job of showing the shifting ethics of “news,” and Liu’s sometimes self-righteous, sometimes self-serving response to that.
“The Post-Truth World” probably puts too much effort into complicating and over-complicating its central mystery and not enough into editing for pace, suspense and simple “hold my interest” contingencies.
It’s not bad. But the truth about “Post-Truth” is that it’s more of a foul ball than a clean single to right.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Hsiao-chuan Chang, Edward Chen, Caitlin Fang, Aviis Zhong and Tzu Hsuan Chan
Credits: Directed by If Chen, scripted by Huang Yen Chiao and Nai-Ching Yeh. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:00