Chatter Street Killer (1988)

Directed by: Alex Cheung
Written by: Alex Cheung & Yuen Gai-Chi
Producer: Teddy Robin
Starring: Cheung Kwok-Keung, Kwan Ming-Yuk, Meg Lam & Bill Tung

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Cop Lo Yau Dai (Cheung Kwok-Keung) is by his own fault assigned to a village murder case (have a taste of that logic...) and goes undercover as an insecticide salesman to find out what went on beyond that apartment window the neighbours looked through. Things get messy as the villagers are a feisty bunch, local girl Mak (Meg Lam) falls in love with Lo but he's only got eyes for what seems to be the prime suspect, Lui Chu Go (Kwan Ming-Yuk)...

After a tour of duty for Alex Cheung at the declining Shaw Brother's (1*), Chatter Street Killer (aka Imaginary Suspects) saw the reunion of a select crew from Cheung's amazing debut Cops And Robbers. Namely, producer Teddy Robin (2*) and the finest performer of that debut, Cheung Kwok-Keung. A very typical product of 80s Hong Kong cinema and clearly not meant to be taken seriously, Alex takes cues from Rear Window for his village murder comedy, with a hint of darkness.

Hong Kong cinema have attempted to portray the dynamic of the closely knit village community in darkly comic ways, most successfully probably in Jamie Luk's underrated The Case Of The Cold Fish, and Cheung does have goals to spin satire out of the exaggerated situations. I'm not the one to say whether this or other Hong Kong films are portraying the stock characters of the village in a correct way or if they're just overblown for the sake of film but I do know when things flashed before me registers as funny. When I mentioned typical, I did indeed mean that most characters, even cops, are mostly egotistical, annoying idiots that will grate at anyone's nerves. Except the Hong Kong cinema audiences perhaps who were and are used to this. Any goals set by Cheung therefore fails pretty much greatly and we're left just watching, generally being annoyed and getting a multi-mood experience for the price of one in the meantime.

It's those times when Cheung breaks mood to dabble in the Hitchcock/Agatha Christie-esque aspects of the film that he's a worthwhile tease in his portrayal of potential suspects, only to twist and turn all the way to the end. While it's welcome to have Cheung do anything resemble darkness or pessimism, very little freshness is presented and that's a problem. Chatter Street Killer may be unpredictable in a sense but you have to get audience on board for those moments when you're supposed to gasp. And again, even though he clearly isn't asking us to think of this as high art, especially when things take a turn for the otherworldly towards the end, there's not enough consistent build-up to warrant any craziness.

Cheung Kwok-Keung also proves to be a problematic casting choice. Far too removed from resembling a comedic talent, it seems the costume department think they can rely upon a pair of glasses to make Lo Yau Dai a fun, bumbling idiot. Perhaps as written he is but Cheung can't immerse himself particularly well into situation comedy and exaggerations of the unique Hong Kong cinema kind. He could very skillfully bring a geeky aura as evident by his performance in Cops And Robbers and the sections that works a little better than others concerns the downward spiral of the character. As his desperation to clear the mess this case eventually turns into, Cheung Kwok-Keung has intensity to share but these brief glimpses can't salvage much of the damage Alex Cheung has already caused.

Chatter Street Killer isn't a complete mess as it's competently put together but failing to utilize opportunities for a nice little off-beat satire, Alex Cheung is never able to rely on any better tricks he's performed in the prior act when in the next that contains some minor goodies. The purposes stalls, plods along at a reasonable pace and while intentions can be smelled, it's the crucial thing of execution that never is clinched. You can kill time but those knowing Cheung's earlier work is sure to be disappointed by his transition from gritty new wave cop dramas, through the brief Shaw Brother's period and now into comedy territory trying to mix the best of the past.

The DVD:

Megastar's dvd was released under the alternate title Imaginary Suspects but Chatter Street Killer is still the title on the print used here. It's presented in an aspect ratio of 1.79:1 approximately. Print has heavier wear in the form of specks and staining initially as well as grain. Colours are never particularly vivid, darker scenes are too dark but print remains clean throughout at least, making it watchable considering the era it was made.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix opens up the front stage at times for atmospheric purposes but remains true to the mono roots all the way. Dialogue can at times leak into the surrounds ever so slightly but a little receiver adjustment will take care of that. A Mandarin 5.1 option is also available.

The English subtitles contains some minor grammar hiccups, missing translating lines and displaying signs out of place in the text but the translation remains comprehensible to a good degree. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also selectable. No extras outside of the About The Film section that contains the plot synopsis and a cast & crew listing. Just Megastar's equivalent of Mei Ah's Databank.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) That included such contrasting efforts such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Danger Has Two Faces.

(2) Teddy appeared in Cops And Robbers, performing his own composed and rousing rock number for the characters in that film.