Interactive Murders (2002)

Directed by: Billy Tang
Written by: Felix Chong
Producer: David Chan
Starring: Andy Hui, Nicola Cheung, Ken Wong, David Lee, Irene Santiago & Cha Chuen Yee

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Celebrities are being kidnapped and them in their captivity are being broadcast out onto the internet. All at the hands of someone the cops and public only know as Jash. Jash requests former cop turned bodyguard Mo (Andy Hui - Killing End) to come on the case and play his devilish games. Reluctantly Mo does so and involves himself greatly, especially concerning Shana (Nicola Cheung - City Of Glass) who apparently is one that can forsee the next celebrity victim. Always one step behind, Jash gathers up a small band of victims and time is running out as he's close to completing his masterpiece...

Following one of Billy Tang's better films post Category III-craze, Sharp Guns, comes this psycho killer-thriller and once again, much is evident in Tang's work when working with less exploitative material. Watching everything from Dial D For Demons to Sexy And Dangerous, you constantly flip flop between the fact that deep inside there is that better filmmaker waiting to emerge again to the fact that the better filmmaker only flourished when working with the graphic material in Red To Kill for instance. Interactive Murders represents the former train of thought and while a B-movie entry in the thriller genre with less than A-personnel on board, it has to be said that the competence on display deserves a high class vehicle to at least prove whether Tang has it in him or not.

Screenwriter Felix Chong after this went on to great fame as co-writer of the Internal Affairs trilogy but constructs a very familiar template here. If you haven't seen the content on display here before, such as Andy Hui's supercop being the best investigator in the world, his clashes with the subordinate cops, a dark past within himself and towards the psycho killer etc etc, then good for will be an actual fresh experience! Based on what's given to Chong and Billy Tang, it's no surprise that Interactive Murders rarely tries to reinvent the genre to any extent though.

Despite, Tang's handling of familiarity remains competent which shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who has followed his work. He maintains an involving pace, turns up the tension when cops are subjected to the puzzles (a silly concept in itself though) on the behalf of our unnamed and unseen psycho and makes sure to work with his favourite cinematographer Tony Miu to create as much of a distinguished visual palette as he can. At times the movie looks like most cheap B-movie ones, at others Miu distorts visuals to a compelling degree as well as giving us some twisted but compelling compositions. There goes a saying among fan circles that with Billy Tang's films, you're at least assured that they will look good despite being part of a somewhat obscure side of Hong Kong cinema. No different here.

Felix Chong may have written a strong social commentary, dealing with we as a viewing audience and our fascination with celebrities and crimes on prime time television (or in this case, on the internet). Tang seems to want to venture into something akin to deep but truth of the matter is, it is just there and briefly featured which I guess is a good thing in this film since deeper thematics really doesn't belong here. The benchmark of these thrillers was set by Se7en and frankly won't be topped so Tang just rightly worries about taking care of business as good as he can with the little means at hand. With an obvious upcoming twist in the final act (judging by the fact that we're 14 minutes away from the end when the dull climax is over), this is the point where most movies die usually. Again, neither of these turn of events may hold water when closely examined but when all is said and done, Interactive Murders firmly balances the ordinary and decent level all the way through. The ordinary and decent Billy Tang level that is, now inventing another way of grading after creating my Herman Yau scale of quality.

With no overly special written characters and characteristics, the actors expectedly do not distinguish themselves as such. Andy Hui does go through the motions well though, bringing the requisite intuition and intensity of this kind of cop character while Nicola Cheung logs a slight sympathetic turn as the sorrowful psychic Shana. A surprise appearance by a known comedian does rank as an intriguing curiosity.

Despite some ventures into what one would call trademark Billy Tang grimness, Interactive Murders, considering its place in the timeline, is far removed from Tang's works of 1993-1994. Considering the familiarity of pretty much all material at hand here, it's assuring to see that Tang can still provide a workable genre effort and with its final twists, you might feel urged to revisit this mystery once more. If I had one wish though, I would like to see someone take a risk and give Billy Tang a larger vehicle, if only once. There is still a filmmaker worthy of note in there and despite unavoidable frowns out there at Run And Kill and Red To Kill, those are really benchmarks just like Se7en was in the genre Interactive Murders resides in. Think about that.

The DVD:

Golden Harvest Home Video presents the film in a 1.80:1 aspect ratio approximately. While fairly sharp and colourful for the most part, there are sections of grain and digital noise that distracts.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 option mainly uses the front stage but to atmospheric effect. A 1.0 option suggests that originally the film was shot in mono but the 5.1 option is still a fitting way to experience the film. Same selections are available for the Mandarin dub.

The English subtitles comes with the odd spelling error but are clean and comprehensible at all times otherwise. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras include the trailer and character profiles. As per other Golden Harvest dvd's, there is no chapter menu but the movie does have 13 chapter stops.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson