He Lives By Night (1982)
Directed by: Leung Po-Chi
Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1983:
A deranged transvestite killer (Eddie Chan - Law With Two Phases) stalks, cuts and strangles women wearing white net stockings. A couple of not so concerned detectives (Kent Cheng & Simon Yam) are put on the case but are more interested in wooing radio DJ Sissy (Sylvia Chang). As time goes by, Sissy puts out provocations on the air and it draws the killer nearer and nearer to choosing her as his next victim...
Leung Po-Chi, while emerging slightly before and working during the 1980s new wave of Hong Kong filmmaking, didn't belong the the group of filmmakers making their pessimistic marks through movies such as The Story Of Woo Viet (Ann Hui) and Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind (Tsui Hark). Po was directing comedies mainly but began injected darker moods with this 1982 Cinema City production to go alongside it. A famed Hong Kong cinema combination but not one famed for actually being parts of a successful whole. Leung Po-Chi's He Lives By Night is one such quite rare example where the blend gels.
Drawing inspirations from the slasher film series of the period such as Halloween and Friday The 13th, in reality Po's biggest inspiration, if only slight, is the Italian murder mysteries (known as giallo) from Dario Argento. At least as far as the horror is concerned but He Lives By Night dabbles pretty much equal in farce and silliness as well. You can read into a few things that Lo Kin has baked into his script, such as the lazy attitude of cops but you'd better stop right there as this film doesn't operate on any level of social commentary. If so, it's buried deep underneath the wild and entertaining comedy! Kent Cheng and Simon Yam's Dragon and Lousy Wong respectively really do seem to, like most Hong Kong people in the film, to make the murder mayhem a secondary concern in their lives. They instead concentrate wholeheartedly on their love rivalry over Sylvia Chang's Sissy. Po keeps the moods way apart and in actuality, the choice to feature both isn't really acceptable on a logical level as it clearly diminishes an effect. Or rather it would've in another filmmaker's hands as Leung Po-Chi is thoroughly dedicated and adept at injecting fine energy and banter into the comedy and gruesomeness into the horror. The comedy is broad for sure, sometimes wonderfully deadpan and dry and with a cast on board for all this, He Lives By Night gets laughs and entertainment from its lighter aspects.
But then it's the horror and aside from a few moments towards the end where black humour finds its way into the slasher scenario, Leung Po-Chi really offers up genuine creepiness and disturbing graphic violence, again in slight tradition of the slasher movies of its time and drawing inspiration from Dario Argento's work. Cinematographer Arthur Wong doesn't earn any awards when shooting comedy as it's just fairly straight point- and shoot techniques offered up but he brings in more elaborate lighting and setups when the crew concentrates on the darkness. Everything from sparsely lit, wet alleys to interiors filled with red before and after a murder equals great atmosphere here, showing that technical dedication is rewarding (as evident by Wong's Hong Kong Film Award the the year after).
Screenwriter Lo Kin (who would go on to co-direct with Kent Cheng the similar in tone Heartbeat 100 a few years later) doesn't provide, nor does he have to provide any deeper mystery behind the mind of Eddie Chan's killer because the workings of Arthur Wong and Leung Po-Chi does more than make up for that. Eddie Chan is directed towards a well-balanced act where he's over the top yes but stays within the realm of creepiness and is suitably deranged. This is also really the only full on serious main performance of the film as Sylvia Chang, Kent Cheng and a young Simon Yam logs the majority of their work when goofing off. Yet they're all so on board with the wit, displaying fine chemistry and several deliveries are hilarious without relying on that noisy Hong Kong banter as such. Eric Tsang (who also has a credit as part of the production design team) and Billy Lau also appear.
You do come back to the fact this amount of graphic violence shouldn't really go hand in hand with silly comedy but with He Lives By Night, Leung Po-Chi shows off an remarkable skill of actually delivering both elements well and planting a high total tally for the movie as a whole. Even if you do try to deem the film flawed, you'd easily be swept away even though you don't want to but that's a good feeling.
Deltamac presents the film framed at a slightly overmatted aspect ratio of 1.88:1 approximately. Signs of wear are apparent at some spots as well as grain but the transfer sports good colours, blacks and decent sharpness for an older production.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track presents no apparent flaws with dialogue and other effects, coming off as fairly clear. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also available.
The English subtitles features a few spelling errors but on the whole seems clean in terms of grammar. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extra is the trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson