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‘Once Upon a Crime’ is a Typical Twist on a Classic Tale

Though an enthralling story, filmmaking needs work
Red Riding Hood joins Cinderella’s tale to unveil a murderer at the ball.
Rating: B-
Photo Credit: IMDB

Castle balls and corpses don’t mix. So when Red Riding Hood (Kanna Hashimoto) and Cinderella (Yûko Araki) hit a corpse on their way to the castle, they must discover the true culprit while dodging their own accusations.

Directed by Yûichi Fukuda, “Once Upon A Crime” begins as an average cross between tales. Red Riding Hood encounters an evil witch (Midoriko Kimura) in the middle of the woods. After ignoring the witch’s attempts at annoyance, Red Riding Hood discovers Cinderella (Yûko Araki), who desires nothing more than to attend the Prince’s ball. Hearing this, a fairy godmother (Yumi Wakatsuki) joins forces with the evil witch to help sneak them into the castle. But when the corpse of a royal hair stylist, Hans (Masaki Kaji), is hit by their carriage, they’re suddenly wrapped in an impossible murder case, with them at the center.

The Brothers Grimm’s tales have been twisted and reused in numerous films, making it hard to write a truly original translation. In fact, fairy tales are no stranger to the murder mystery theme, as combining nostalgia and horror is a common trope. As a result, “Once Upon a Crime” has a rocky start, and struggles to hold a candle to the countless iterations like “Gretel and Hansel”. 

In the beginning, the movie paints itself as a purely comedic film, resembling a television comedy due to its dialogue and absence of atmosphere or music. Regardless, it held my attention with its humorous attributes, and made me laugh from time to time. Strangely enough, I noticed that as the humor diminished, the cinematography flourished. 

Although it makes sense why they discarded the comedy as the situation grew more tense, it felt like I was watching a completely different film. For instance, the movie begins with boring lighting that makes the forest feel plastic, and camera angles that do nothing for the scene. But as the story progresses, the scenes feel professional and well-composed. Not only that, but when the forest scene is revisited, it feels dynamic and real. This is a bit disorienting, and it is almost like the story swaps directors halfway.

While the characters are nearly identical to their origins, this isn’t necessarily a terrible idea. They don’t lack too much depth, and it is interesting to watch how their personalities mixed with the plot. Nonetheless, I would’ve enjoyed more focus on the original side characters, rather than the movie’s new ones. One concern I had is the fact that Red Riding Hood’s own tale is discarded in the film, with Cinderella’s taking the spotlight. Even my favorite character, the witch, is placed into the plot without context.

One of the main plot-points is the division of beauty. The kingdom is depicted as favoring attractive people, while excluding ugly people from the royale events. It honestly feels like a lazy effort to separate the film from its origins, and it fails in many ways. It’s greatest flaw is that it makes no effort to remember the split. The only part of the kingdom seen is the castle, and the only “ugly” people are Cinderella and a mysterious character. The movie only mentions it when it’s convenient to the plot.

Among all its faults, “Once Upon a Crime” is still a well-written story. Though its first impressions start bumpy, pushing past the first few minutes reveals the movie’s strength: murder mystery. It is genuinely captivating and kept me on the edge of my seat. Where it lacked in cinematography, it made up for in writing. I feel if the direction had more experience, it would have made a worthwhile masterpiece. I’d recommend this film to anyone who loves detective films, and challenge them to decipher the case before the grand reveal.

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