Directed by: Po-Chih Leong
Written by: Lo Kin (screenplay)
Starring: Sylvia Chang, Eddie Chan, Kent Cheng and Yam Tat Wah
Reviewed by: Josh G.
ďNext time, donít cross without looking....!Ē
ďNext time, donít...wear white socks!Ē
Just when you think youíve seen all the great retro slasher films of the golden era, youíre surprised once again by the foreign market. Ye jing hun, a Honk Kong horror/comedy from 1982, is one that has slipped off the radar of most collectors, thanks to its seclusion from North America. Though the final chase and killer weapon close-ups show a link to the American slasher flicks of the time, He Lives by Night has a style and movement about it that certainly feels more akin to Italian gialli of the 70s. Mixed with crazy Hong Kong slapstick and wickedly charming humor, you have a breed of the genre unique to what has been marketed in the past, or present. And itís all for the better!
A woman with a razor is cutting up other ladies in the dark of the night. The motive? They were wearing white stockings! As the murders continue throughout the days, tomboyish late night disc jockey Sissy (Chang) reports and updates on the news during her radio show, whilst her friend Lousy Wong (Yam) and his police boss Dragon (Cheng) are working together to get the young woman to go out with the latter. Sissy finds herself strangely involved in the overweight man, and soon successfully helps Dragon find a valuable detail to the killerís identity: she is actually a man in drag. When Sissy goes on the air to warn the people about not wearing white stockings, she takes things a step too far, damning the killer to hell, sending him into a fit of rage. Now the killer, Eddie (Chan) is after the radio host, and sheíll need more than a cut phone line to stop his continuous pursuit.
It looks like the 1970s in many homes, but it sounds pure 80s. Synth-pop and electronic music, as well as comedic Chinese, spice up the scenes to the max. There are a great handful of colorful characters, from the cheesy punk duo who robs the store, to the crazy, controlling, obsessed fan of Sissyís with a shrine of her in his home, to the two girls back from a day of shopping at the mall. An interesting and effective scene is the one in the shopping girlsí home, where we learn that they like to scare each other by faking deaths/attacks. When the killer comes a knocking dressed in long dark hair and heels, one of the girls actually stalks the killer in the dark, thinking it to be her friend, who is upstairs bathing. Itís not too body count heavy, but it is done with so much energy and popping style that by the end it doesnít really matter, because it keeps you at full attention the entire way through.
The little things help make this movie what it is. The peculiar love-hate relationship with Sissy and Dragon, a sped-up dinner scene with over two hundred dollars worth of food, quirky get-up and dance disco wooing by the cop (who is even called ĎFattieí by Sissy at times) and an attack on a police officer with brass knuckles thanks to his own stupidity in scaring her with a mask. Itís so loony! Even the few eye-rolling moments have such spark that you canít bring it down if you tried, because it still pokes fun at itself too. Shocking to find, there were also a number of false scares that people of today would fall for. No window-hopping cats or hands on shoulders. There are true tense moments to be had. A wandering newspaper viciously bangs into Sissyís head as if sheís being suffocated, a bloodcurdling scream is released when a rat is spotted in the kitchen, and a killerís gaze is hooked on the concealed location of a potential victim, but never realised. And in the end, you donít catch the gag until it has been well revealed that it is indeed such a thing.
A strong opening is presented after a lights show in a fancy bar, when the first victim is walking through a sequence of red and yellow sheets to cross an alley. The killer cuts up the cloth repeatedly until the screaming girl is trapped in various rags, left for strangling on the side. I want to tell you about the other deaths, but I simply cannot ruin it for you. Besides, the magic of Ye jing hun is its power of differences among tone. Everyone knows that comic relief is used to make the audience comfortable and acquainted with the cast, making you forget about the horror and loosening up for when the next one hits you. But it doesnít work very often, does it? And when it does, it still seems out of place. Luckily, such is not the case here, where for once you want to continue with the lead trioís wacky adventures. Once the killer comes along, itís kind of a bittersweet moment, but you know itís going to be good either way.
While I donít think this slasher will reign amongst the best that the early years had to offer, mainly for straying a bit and being just a bit too funny, itís without doubt one that any completest, and even casual fan should see. Who ever thinks of Honk Kong and slashers together anyways? Itís nice to know that if this movie could be so good, and so unknown, then maybe there are plenty of others out there waiting for our sights too! Perhaps the greatest thing about our new found friend here is that its greatest moments come from, not its kills, but its chase. Almost as if it is in two parts, one taking place in the radio building with Sissy alone, and the second with a farce of cops out of uniform trying to catch the psychopath, the finale is one long, satisfying suspensor. Sissy even fights back with a samurai sword at one point! It even carries one of the strangest things I have ever seen in a horror film too, with the killer using a 7up pop machine as a tool for dispatching, speeding down the hall after our final girl with no braking! Itís ludicrous. Itís nutty. Itís fantastic!
Thank you to Hong Kong for making their DVD of He Lives by Night NTSC Region 0. Distributor Joy Sales gives the rest of the world a chance to see this underrated and extra unique slasher flick, in widescreen and with English subtitles to help us understand the Cantonese and Mandarin language. The sound is pretty good, and considering itís likely to be seen subtitled anyways, itís the score that truly matters. Picture could be nicer as there are some blue-ish blacks, soft colors and many cracks/dots in the picture, but itís not very disruptive at all. Sadly, it is interlaced, but again, the transfer is from a fine print. A testament to the truth that slashers donít have to be filled with gore to be memorable. While not all of them should try out the weird comedy routine this one does, it shows that darkness can be just as evident as light even when the silly levels reach a high eight. You donít need to simply borrow these stockings for a one night fling. Save them for your next few murders too and Buy it!
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