Monday, 20 August 2012

Murderer Pursues - 踩線 (1981)

First off I would like to apologize for the lateness of this review. You see, My copy of the new open world Hong Kong set action crime video game Sleeping Dogs arrived in the post two days before it's official release date here in the UK and it ended up eating a lot of my time and this review inevitably fell by the wayside as I found myself having too much fun shoving people's faces in AC units while my character was dressed as Jackie Chan from Rumble in the Bronx. However, I have taken time out of my hectic Hong Kong gangster life to finally get on the review of Murderer Pursues!

The film starts off in a Vietnamese internment camp in Mainland China where a small group of friends manage to escape and flee to Hong Kong in hopes of adopting a new life. The leader of the group Ah Shen (Danny Lee) takes some of his friends in with him as they adopt a life of crime. Meanwhile his brother Ah Chang (Ray Lui) tracks down his Uncle Su (Kent Cheng). Quickly Chang joins the police force and becomes an undercover detective who is put on the case of Ah Shen and the rest of his group who killed a man in a botched robbery. Before long the brother of the man they killed begins hunting them down one by one in order to have his revenge.

Like Danger Has Two Faces, Murderer Pursues has a story that I actually liked. The idea of personal identity and cultural background and how you integrate yourself in a foreign land are pretty heavy subjects to tackle. Especially in an early 80's Shaw Brothers production yet director and writer and one time Shaw contract player Wong Chung keeps things neatly in place for the entire run time and creates fairly believable characters that embody the isolation of how Vietnamese refugees suddenly find themselves in a place they're not all familiar with. Wong Chung doesn't fully go with it as much as I would have liked. The history of Vietnamese refugees finding their way into China and Hong Kong due to the ongoing conflict between the US and the Viet Cong is one I've never really explored and it interests me greatly to see how this sudden influx of foreign people and the affect they had on Chinese society was addressed in the medium of film during this era.

It seems this is something Wong wanted to really tap into and I get the feeling he was talked into throwing in some criminal elements at the behest of producer Mona Fong to try and make a film that was more bankable. This is really an educated guess but I don't think I'm too far from the truth. Beside the social elements we have, as I said lots of crime going on. Ah Chang is the righteous police officer looking to do the right thing. It's mentioned he's half Chinese and half Vietnamese which is why he's able to play to both side. It's also the primary reason he's given the case of tracking down his brother Shen and the rest of group. Which is odd as something like that would normally keep a person like Chang off the case but for the sake if cinematic story telling, it works.

Ah Shen and the rest of his group aren't really portrayed in a very sympathetic way. Danny Lee's cold demeanor makes him ideal in the role and he does have a very commanding presence. Despite the fact he doesn't actually say very much throughout the film. The rest of the group all have their own distinct personalities. Lung Tin-Sang is the more twitchy of the group and has a rather important scene with Ray's character which he points out that they will always be outsiders to the people of Hong Kong while Chang has become one of the city's many people at the cost of sacrificing his Vietnamese heritage. As I said, incredibly heavy stuff but Wong plays it just right here. Lam Shung-Ching is the hot-head with a slightly anarchic streak who wants to go out there and show Hong Kong they should be afraid of them, although he does have a hidden vulnerable side which you can tell he wants to show but is afraid. Finally Packman Wong is the more reserved, cautious member of the group who tends to watch how things unfold before acting.

You mix in Ray's character long with Kent Cheng's no nonsense senior cop and you've got a good mix of characters to play off and makes the story work all the more better. Also Wong Ching plays a bespectacled killer who doesn't have a whole lot to say except give a creepy smile and kill anyone he doesn't like. His performance was very chilling at some points.

Since this a heavy crime drama with serious social undertones you'd be right in thinking there isn't much in terms of action and what there is I really wouldn't call it action. There's a few brawls but there isn't much by way of choreography except the actors throwing themselves around and throwing a few punches and a couple kicks. There's a very hard hitting fight in the beginning when our characters are in the internment camp. They end up have a set to with another group. Everyone is knocking over furniture and using whatever it is they can get their hands on the inflict pain. Even going so far as to use some sharpened steel pipes. Danny uses one of those to great effect and it gives the brawl a very sudden and very brutal stop that makes it all the more shocking, at least from the characters' perspectives.

There's not much after that. There's some foot chases. A nicely done fight between Ray and Shung-Ching but when we enter the final reel we get a very dramatic confrontation between Danny's put upon Shen and Ching's grinning killer. I loved the way this played out. For me Hong Kong film makers seemed to have this incredible knack for creating tension and Wong Chung is no exception. It all takes place on a small series of rooftops but you wouldn't know as it's all masterfully shot and edited and creates a real sense of atmosphere. If you've seen your fair share of 80's HK crime pictures then you know how it'll end but I still loved it all the same.

Murderer Pursues is a very surprising film for me. I went into it not expecting much and what I ended up with is one of the more interesting crime films of the 1980's. With it's interesting approach the the social issues at the time backed by some good acting performances and nice bursts of tension and drama it's a film that's much more deserving of the reputation it seems to have among fans of Hong Kong cinema.

Don't be afraid to pick up the DVD which is easily available through DDDhouse. You might end up liking it just as much as I did.

Join me next time when I'll be taking a look at Brothers From The Walled City.

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