Sunday, March 28, 2010

Intruder (1997)

In mainland China, Yieh Siu-Yan (Ng Sin-Lin) kills a woman who is just about to emigrate to Hong Kong to live with the man she has married. The young woman then steals her victim's identity, travels to Hong Kong and applies for a passport.

This is just the first step in a complicated (and increasingly weird) plan to get her husband and herself safety and new identities away from the mainland, after they have killed a whole family and hubbie has lost his hands to the sweet attentions of police dogs.

The next step is for Siu-Yan to pose as a prostitute and find a fitting male victim. Taxi driver Chen Chi-Min (Wayne Lai) is the poor chosen one, because he has few human contacts and lives in a house as far away from the city's centre as possible. At first, the woman is just trying to get as much information as possible out of her designated victim. The next night, she runs him over with a car to break his legs and make him easier to handle for the next night, when she comes to visit him at his home.

Now, all she needs is enough time to torture some more information out of him and to get rid of Chen's estranged mother and his four year old little daughter whom her father loaded off to live with grandma. Surely, there's nothing that can go wrong for her or hubby.

Intruder is a fine example of post Untold Story Hong Kong CAT III cinema, based on a crime supposedly ripped from the headlines and adorned with extra helpings of nastiness. The film plays merrily with an anxiety that must have gripped Hong Kong especially hard at the time, the fear of the sort of people that would be coming over from the mainland after the Handover. Of course, Hong Kong cinema has always been full of some dreadful thing or the other coming to the city from another country (preferably Thailand), so this is only a new incarnation of a very old trope.

Having said that, I think the movie is not one of the more difficult to stomach examples of its kind - with one qualification I will get into later.

Intruder is the only film directed by Tsang Kan-Cheung, who mostly worked as a script writer for comedies. What drove him to write and direct this is anybody's guess. My wild guess would of course be money.

Tsang gives his film a moody and cold look, dominated by blue light and rain that reflects the coldness of its main character Siu-Yan, who doesn't have the police counterpart that many other CAT III films of this type use. Instead the film mostly keeps to the killer's perspective, but keeps its audience distanced from her motivations and plans.

The violence is quite nasty, but not too bad compared to other films of its genre. Tsang seems more interested in shocking his audience with Siu-Yan's ruthlessness and the terrible utilitarianism of her deeds than through grossing it out. The film is not looking away from her brutality, but it also isn't wallowing in it as much as it could.

The film also shows more sympathy for the victims than you usually find in movies following a serial killer closely. Siu-Yan's victims might not be very nice persons, but the more time the film spends with them, the more sympathy they evoke simply through the plain humanity of people in fear and pain, which puts them into deep contrast to our less than warm protagonist/killer.

Ng Sin-Lin for her part is really quite brilliant in her role. The emotionless manner and the cruel effectiveness with which she operates at first are very disturbing, but the true emotional punch comes in the moments when some long forgotten rests of humanity surface. Something, the film makes clear (probably with a hidden cynical sneer), an effective killer of her type can't have.

Intruder wins some of its tension in the decidedly cheap way of putting a small child into danger (and she is ill too boot!), but I am alright with the way it handles the "child in danger" problem.

Would this be a Western film, we could be quite sure that the child's ending will be a happy one, but there are no certainties of this sort in Hong Kong cinema of the period, and so I found myself watching her ordeal with more tension than I usually would. That alone certainly makes this not a film for everyone - while there are films with heavier on-screen violence against children, not many of them have the aura of ruthlessness Intruder affects.


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