Tuesday, February 26, 2008
WARNING: Clip contains spoilers, but also many of the things that are cool about Hong Kong cinema (even if this isn't one of the great Hong Kong films), so view at your own risk.
KILLING ME TENDERLY (Hong Kong; 1997)
D: Lee Lik-chi
Craving a change of scenery and pace, rural village leader and police chief Leon Lai transfers to the big city, where he’s less than thrilled with his first assignment: babysitting low-ranking pop singer Sammi Cheng through a gauntlet of rehearsals, mini-concerts, press conferences, petty rivalries, radio interviews and photo ops, all the while pretending to be gay both to fit in with her all-gay “mistress house” of handlers and to keep her from suspecting he’s actually investigating an increasingly homicidal stalker.
Cute blandness very nearly defines bubblegum Hong Kong filmmaking, but the scenario might have sparkled more brightly had Lai dialed up the camp to something even half approaching the levels seen in his concerts, and had Cheng played something a little edgier than a trusting dove of innocence who just wants the world to hear her sing (essentially her own “public image” made manifest). Then again, this is the kind of movie in which the hero grudgingly allows his charge to carry on with her first big stage show and, despite the threat of a psycho killer on the loose in the auditorium, allows groups of tear-streaked young girls to deliver flowers to the singer ON STAGE! Because he loves her, you see, and she trusts him with her life, which she doesn’t fear losing in front of her adoring fans because they’re the most important people in the world, even when the man sworn to protect her is 30 rows back while more of them run up on stage to greet her and cry some more and . . . did I mention that a man-child whacko who kills cats is loose in the house?
Sammi Cheng and Leon Lai (the latter somewhat surprisingly) give warm, natural performances, although the contrivances that turn their working relationship into a romantic one are far less convincing (particularly Cheng’s reaction after discovering Lai’s undercover status and the fallout that ensues). Industry milieu and minutiae have a sanitized air of authenticity about them, which weighs nicely against the film’s ultra-conventional catch-that-stalker scenario.