Friday, September 30, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Run and Kill (1993)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

"Fatty" Cheung (Kent Cheng) is not the luckiest of men. He might have a solidly running business selling gas, a doting mother, a loving little daughter and a pretty if costly wife (Lily Lee), but he's bound to lose all of it faster than he could have expected.

When Cheung comes home early on his wedding anniversary, he finds his wife having a bit of adulterous fun with a decidedly thinner and younger man than himself. Cheung is not the kind of man prone to violent outbursts, so he just protests limply that the couple really shouldn't do it in his living room and skitters away to get drunk.

That wasn't Cheung's best idea. When he's so drunk he really doesn't know what he's saying anymore, a girl named Fanny (Esther Kwan) talks him into getting a little payback on his wife. She knows the right man for the job, too.

Said right man is a member of a Vietnamese gang, and - showing the low standard of customer service in the gangster business - for him, a mumbled "she should be dead" by a drunk guy lying puking and crying in the gutter is an assassination order. He takes all of Cheung's cash as an advance payment and gets on his way.
Some time in the morning, Cheung, of course not remembering a thing, stumbles home only to find his wife and her boyfriend still at it. They're not doing it for long anymore, though, because a bunch of Cheung's gang "friends" break into the apartment, rape and kill the wife, kill the boyfriend and leave Cheung alive and ready to be arrested.

The Hong Kong police's Inspector Man (Danny Lee doing a guest stint in his usual role, but strangely abstaining from hitting anyone with a phone book) is sure that there's something fishy about the affair, but he can't prove anything, and Cheung isn't talking, so he lets the man go.

The police will turn out to be the least of Cheung's problems anyway. Turns out that the gang is rather enraged about his being in the apartment when they did the deed. They are even less pleased that Cheung can't pay what he owes them. Blowing up Cheung's gas business seems like a fine way to show that displeasure.

At that point, Cheung decides to go into hiding in a house he owns somewhere in what goes for the country in Hong Kong. As bad luck will have it, he finds it occupied by a gang of mainland Chinese gangsters. Those guys at least aren't too mean to him, though. As a matter of fact, Wah, the youngest of them, eager to distinguish himself as a hard guy like his brother Ching Fung (Simon Yam), even promises to help Cheung out with his problem with the Vietnamese.

Unsurprisingly, Wah's intervention doesn't end too well, leaving some of his colleague's dead, and Wah, Cheung and Fanny in the hands of their enemies. Ching Fung comes slaughtering to the rescue a bit later, but at that point, Wah is nearly dead from torture.

A bit later, he truly is dead, and Ching Fung is very, very angry and also quite insane. This can't end well for Cheung or his family.

Billy Tang has directed quite a few of these ripped-from-the-headlines Hong Kong CAT III crime films with a nasty bend, with Red to Kill probably his best known film. At first, I thought Run and Kill would be one of the more harmless films of its type, with just enough of sex and violence to give it Hong Kong's adult rating, but it turned out that the film's slow and harmless beginning was just Tang's way to produce an adequate drop height.

The further the film goes along the nastier its tone gets. It really isn't the way the violence itself is depicted that gets to you here, it is the nature of the violence itself. What happens to Cheung's daughter Pinky is one of the more shocking things I've ever seen in a film, even for the usually not very friendly world of CAT III cinema.

Much of the film's harsh emotional effect has to do with Tang's immensely tight direction. Apart from an absolutely useless scene with Lee that exposits about plans of the mainland gangsters which will have no import at all on the rest of the movie, Run and Kill wastes no time with scenes that have no importance for the growing sense of doom and desperation that permeates it.

The film is bathed in the typical cold blue of a 90s Hong Kong production, a cold light that is to the film and others of its kind what shadow is to the American noir.

In a sense, the noir seems like an apt comparison for Run and Kill and other of the more ambitious CAT III crime films. Tang's film and Hollywood's noirs share a sense of absurdity, a love of coincidences (or the believe in a malevolent universe) which make bad situations worse. And how noir is the film's basic story about a seemingly happy man losing everything through a mixture of his own stupidity and sheer bad luck?

Of course, there is one thing that divides a CAT III cinema like this and noir quite harshly: it is the way they relate to violence.

Where the Hollywood movies only imply violence and often use their thick shadows to hide it, the Hong Kong films go all out with it, sleazily wallowing in it. Sometimes this is surely out of pure exploitational instinct, but at other times, like in Run and Kill's particular case, I can't shake the feeling that this is very much a difference born out of a more honest nihilism in the Asian films. In a sense, the Hollywood noir wouldn't let go of a concept of morality (in part surely out of reasons of censorship, but only in part), admitting to the darkest sides of humanity and the world itself, yet still judging them as if there were a moral instance to be judged by and hoping as if there were something better to hope for.

CAT III has given up on that. You can't show a father having to watch his little girl burned to death and later running around cradling her charred remains and try to put a moral bend on it,  and Run and Kill never does. The film's nihilism runs much too deep to still put trust into a concept of hope. The still humanist "Look, isn't is sad and terrible?" of the noir has transformed into the simple command to LOOK.

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