The new Taiwanese crime thriller series on Netflix, “Copycat Killer,” has the aesthetic touch of the 90s crime genre, very aptly, too, since it is adapted from Japanese novelist Miyabe Miyuki’s novel of the same name. Set in the Songyan area of Taiwan, the series follows prosecutor Kuo Hsiao-chi as he sets out to solve a case of ongoing serial killings and catch the perpetrator before it is too late. Although “Copycat Killer” has an interesting core that keeps one intrigued, it also sometimes takes too much time to develop, and its long list of 10 episodes, each at least an hour long, does not help its cause either.
‘Copycat Killer’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
The series begins in 1997 with scenes of utter chaos and terror as video cassettes containing the same video have been sent all over Songyan to various TV news channels and broadcasters. This video is of a masked man calling himself Noh and threatening to kill a woman while also challenging prosecutor Kuo Hsiao-chi to stop him if he can. As the video is played on screens all over the area, on private televisions as well as public screens, we are taken back eight weeks, when the matter had originally begun.
Although most of the prosecutor’s office was busy with bringing down triad activities and stopping criminal gangs, Kuo Hsiao-chi was not interested in such boring affairs. He was instead dedicated to solving cases of murder and suspicious deaths, not caring about how demanding and taxing they were on him. While his colleagues were already quite judgmental of Hsiao-chi, this situation gets worse when the man catches a fellow prosecutor from his office, Syu You-wei, involved in profiteering and gets him arrested. The late 90s was a time when television media was already on the rise as a source of information as well as sensationalizing; this arrest is covered extensively by newspapers and channels.
While most of his colleagues try to stay away from Hsiao-chi, the man soon follows a different lead when a severed female hand is found packed up inside a box lying at a local park. Along with the help of police officers Lin Shang-yong and Jhang Da-chao, the prosecutor investigates the case of the severed hand closely and finds a link with a murder case from three years ago. Both the victim in that case and the hand in this present one have dislocated thumbs in the same manner, suggesting that thumbcuffs had been used on them. However, the perpetrator of the earlier murder had already been caught—a young man named Tian Cun-yi—and he was still in prison serving his sentence. Just as Kuo Hsiao-chi grows confident that Cun-yi must have had some accomplice in his crime, reports of more young women going missing start to crop up, confirming that there is a serial killer on the loose. But what Hsiao-chi still does not suspect, though, is that there are multiple perpetrators committing the crimes.
Was Jian-Ho A Part Of The Criminal Group?
Gradually, as the series progresses and more characters are introduced, the first suspicion of being Tian Cun-yi’s accomplice falls on a young man named Jian-ho. Along with following the prosecutor’s office, we also regularly follow a news television channel called TNB, and Jian-ho happens to be a photographer at this place. Although Hsiao-chi meets up with Cun-yi at the prison in search of more information or clues, the latter does not help with anything, still claiming that he was the only murderer in the case. Hsiao-chi also meets up with Hu Yun-huei, the clinical psychologist who handles the case of Cun-yi and most other police cases, but she cannot help much either. It is established that Hsiao-chi and Yun-huei had been romantic partners for a while, but the relationship had not really worked out because of the prosecutor’s busy professional life. Therefore, since the authorities have to figure out who the real perpetrator is, suspicion falls on Jian-ho.
The photographer had an extremely shy and docile personality, always trying to stay away from too much public presence or confrontation. However, Jian-ho was spotted at the Kink nightclub, which seemed to be very closely related to the cases of the missing women since all of them had disappeared after visiting the club. In fact, Jian-ho had even been seen talking with one of the missing women on the very same night that she had disappeared. Once the serial killer started contacting the press directly, it was Jian-ho’s phone that had been called both times. However, there is an angle of drama in all this as well, as Jian-ho was Yun-huei’s younger brother, and the woman refuses to believe that he could be involved in murders, even though Jian-ho did have a history of being severely bullied in his high school days.
Within some time, as we are shown scenes of the women kept bound and gagged in some secret place, the real perpetrator of the crimes is revealed to be Shen Jia-wun, the part-time DJ at the Kink nightclub. What seems even more suspicious is the fact that Jian-ho is regularly seen keeping in touch with Jia-wun, even visiting his house and checking up on him. But the truth was that Jian-ho was genuinely concerned for his friend Jia-wun, and he had nothing to do with the murders. The two men had a history together, as they used to be classmates since elementary school, and Jia-wun used to actively protect Jian-ho from his bullies at all times. There had even been an incident where a girl who had been bullying Jian-ho was later found heavily assaulted. While the attack had been done by Jia-wun, Jian-ho had covered for him and taken the blame upon himself. From then until now, Jian-ho has kept feeling indebted to his friend Jia-wun, which is why he has tried to stop him from doing anything wrong. Jian-ho even tried to stop Jia-wun when he conclusively understood that his friend was the serial killer, but he was overpowered. Unfortunately, the real side of Jian-ho is never revealed to the public, as he dies in the same car crash that kills Jia-wun.
Why Was Jia-Wun Committing The Murders?
The manner in which Hsiao-chi and his team find out about Jia-wun and the story of his past is quite gripping, since the past, too, is extremely unusual. Jia-wun was actually the second child of his mother, and incidentally, he had been named after her first child, a daughter, who had tragically passed away at a very young age. Unable to bear this loss, the mother, Pei-fen, had lost her mental stability, and she was divorced from her husband too. During this time, she started working a government job and, through it, got close to an important politician. Around a year later, she gave birth to a son, but the politician feared a scandal and did not accept them formally. As the boy kept growing up with his single mother, Pei-fen, he was regularly made to dress up and act like a girl by the woman. Pei-fen still wanted to hold on to the memory of her dead daughter Jia-wun, and in order to do this, she gave her son the same name and forced him to be like a girl. This traumatic childhood had a huge impact on the boy’s mind, and Jia-wun used to hallucinate the ghost of a young girl, his elder sister. Every time this ghost appears in Jia-wun’s imaginary vision, the man loses all grasp over reality and attacks and kills whoever is in front of him in an attempt to kill the ghost.
During his teenage and young adult days, Jia-wun was noted to have a girlfriend named Jhang Ming-mei, based on the many phone calls between the two. But Ming-mei had gone strangely missing too, and when Hsiao-chi meets with her mother, he finds out that Ming-mei had apparently left the country unannounced and was living in Canada, and that the mother was still regularly sending her money. A deeper investigation soon reveals that the bank account was still being used in the vicinity of the Kink club, and Hsiao-chi grows certain that it is Jia-wun who is still withdrawing the money. A search of the man’s childhood house also reveals the decomposed body of Ming-mei, confirming that Jia-wun was the killer. However, before the police can find and catch him, Jia-wun drives away with Jian-ho and his latest victim inside the car. During this drive, the man hallucinates his dead sister again, and in the process, he drives his car off the cliff, killing himself and Jian-ho. Such a scenario makes all think that the serial killings are now over since Jia-wun is dead, but things shake up once more when another video of a man calling himself Noh is sent to the media outlets, making it clear that there were even more accomplices in the murders.
Who Were The Real Perpetrators? How Had They Committed The Crimes?
As it turns out, after the revelations that follow, the only murder Jia-wun had committed was that of Ming-mei. Although the man was definitely involved in torture and rape, he was not the one who had been killing the women. It was actually TNB news presenter Chen He-ping who had been committing the murders, and the man was actually acting as a masterful manipulator for a group of young men. Around five years earlier, when He-ping had recently joined TNB, he was made a part of the department led by Yao Ya-cih, a renowned journalist and presenter. During this time, Ya-cih had asked He-ping to prepare a report on an illegal pornography ring in the northern districts of the country. As part of this report, the journalist had gone to a video store/club named Sodom. Although this place seemed to just be a video store selling and renting adult films, a space in the underground was also used as a place for live performances in which women would be kept bound and tortured for the sexual entertainment of club patrons. After initially reporting on the matter, He-ping had found perverse excitement at the place, and it was here that he had met with Shen Jia-wun and Tian Cun-yi. While Jia-wun was a regular customer at the club, Cun-yi was looking for work as a photographer and joined the gang.
From a very early age, Chen He-ping had psychopathic tendencies and got pleasure from torture and murder, and it seems like the boy had been the reason for his parent’s deaths as well. After becoming a journalist, He-ping was obsessed with the idea of being at the center of everyone’s attention, and inside his psychopathic mind, he had been making this plan of becoming a notorious serial killer with the identity of Noh. This was why he organized for the media to be contacted often and left evidence and clues in public places. He-ping’s whole intention was to create hype and buzz among people in whatever way he could. While he, Jia-wun, Cun-yi, and the owner of Sodom had originally started kidnapping women and torturing them in the club’s underground rooms, He-ping had then stumbled upon Jia-wun’s murder of Ming-mei. It was then that he killed their victim of the time, but Cun-yi could not bear this guilt. Although he wanted out of this secret club of murderers, He-ping threatened to harm Cun-yi’s aged father and instead made Cun-yi take the blame for the murder and get sent to jail. Although Cun-yi tries to tell the truth to the authorities, he fears for his father too, and ultimately reveals his innocence only before killing himself.
He-ping’s modus operandi changes after the death of Jia-wun, because he is now the only one left in the group, and he feels that the stage is ready for him to take it as well. While the earlier murders left mysterious clues and were made to look like the acts of Jia-wun, the ones that followed were way more direct and outlandish. He-ping kills the renowned journalist Ya-cih because she had always suspected a dark side in him and had then gone on to question his serial-killer psyche. It was only Ya-cih and Hsiao-chi who had questioned or challenged He-ping, and now he goes after both of them. While Ya-cih is directly killed off, He-ping attacks Hsiao-chi indirectly by killing his ex-partner Yun-huei.
Why Does Hsiao-Chi Shoot He-Ping?
The investigation into the murders and the identity of Noh falls into a strange situation, where the prosecutor is almost sure that it is He-ping who is the murderer, but he cannot really prove it yet. Within this time, He-ping kills Yun-huei, directly challenging Hsiao-chi and also triggering in him a suppressed violent side. From the beginning of “Copycat Killer,” there are suggestions that something dark had taken place during Hsiao-chi childhood, and now we get the full extent of it. When Hsiao-chi was just a young boy, he had an argument with his father over some regular matter and was extremely angry at the man. During that time, his father owed some money to a lender, who had been asking for it back for quite some time. On this day, Hsiao-chi met the lender on the streets and angrily told him that he should go to their house and collect his amount since there was a lot of money there. The boy had believed that the lender would just create a scene and embarrass his father, but he could not imagine that one thing would lead to another, and the moneylender would end up murdering both his parents and his younger sister.
As Hsiao-chi had grown up with the guilt of causing death to his own family, he was secretly determined to never let a close one get hurt ever again. However, when He-ping kills his ex-partner, with whom he had just mended his relationship too, Hsiao-chi cannot hold himself back. He seeks He-ping out, fights him, and then shoots him too. Although He-ping is only injured and will recover in some time, Hsiao-chi is sent to prison for his crime of taking the law into his own hands.
‘Copycat Killer’ Ending Explained: How Does Hsiao-Chi Finally Get He-Ping Arrested?
While Hsiao-chi spends his days in jail, He-ping recovers from his injuries and returns to his job at TNB, where he becomes the face of the channel following Ya-cih’s death. He-ping also makes a name for himself as a journalist, is attacked by the authorities only because of his honest questioning of them, and even publishes a book on the serial killings. Although he poses the entire matter as possible theories, the man actually writes about how he killed all his victims. Still thinking of how to get He-ping to confess to his crimes, Hsiao-chi finds great help in the colleague he had earlier sent to prison for profiteering, Syu You-wei. It is You-wei who convinces the head prosecutor to give Hsiao-chi a chance to prove his belief and a trap is set up.
Since He-ping was by now obsessed with being in the limelight and yet being unpunished for his secret crimes, he was also heading the primetime show. Hsiao-chi now requests the channel let him come to this show and publicly apologize to He-ping, all media personnel, and the citizens for his inappropriate behavior. He-ping readily agrees, gloating with joy when the prosecutor apologizes to him, but things soon take a different turn when live phone calls from the public are taken as part of the show. You-wei, in the presence of the lead prosecutor, calls up the show and pretends as if he is the real serial killer, Noh. He calls He-ping a cheat who has only copied his stories and calls him an insignificant liar. Enraged by such accusations and also triggered at being called insignificant, He-ping breaks down and confesses to everything, in a sense as if he was bringing his true secretive art to light.
Towards the end of “Copycat Killer,” He-ping is arrested and is soon put up to court, but he still remains unfazed and confident about his actions, saying that he hoped that his actions would encourage more people to commit murder. He-ping is ultimately stabbed to death by a masked man while being taken to court, and it is clear that the violence he had perpetrated in society had now worked against him. He still wishes to be right at the center of all attention, asking reporters to report on his death in full detail. As the serial killer case truly comes to an end, Kuo Hsiao-chi continues to serve the remainder of his prison sentence and is then seen working as a public defendant in criminal cases.