Intruder (1997)

Written & directed by: Tsang Kan-Cheung
Producers: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Starring: Wu Chien-Lien, Wayne Lai, Bonnie Wong, Lai Yuen Tung, Moses Chan & Yuen Bun


In 1997, Milkyway Image was still only making minor impact on Hong Kong cinema, not doing that good business and Johnnie To himself wasn't yet directing at his newly formed production house. At least box-office took off a little bit more with his Milkyway debut, A Hero Never Dies and it was from that point, eyes were definitely opened more as they kept churning out one acclaimed film after another. So Milkyway's first 2 years of productions are still fairly obscure, none more so than the Category III rated thriller, Intruder. Director/writer Tsang Kan-Cheung's only directed movie to date is quite a different beast to his more known work in the industry as a scriptwriter. Having written prolific 80s efforts such as Royal Warriors and My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, in 1996 he joined with Stephen Chow as co-writer on God Of Cookery. Subsequently, their collaboration has carried over to Chow's hits King Of Comedy and Shaolin Soccer. So, we're dealing with a definite contrast here as Tsang is pouring out otherworldly darkness on screen from the directing chair. I think no one could imagine, not even producers Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, what Tsang Kan-Cheung had in mind for Intruder. But you know what, funny-men, or those dealing in comedy, can more easily approach material such as this, rather than vice versa.

Mainlander Yieh Siu Yan (Wu Chien-Lien) kills off a Sichin Aieh, a young woman she's befriended in order to assume her identity to get into Hong Kong. When passed through customs, Yieh, acting as a prostitute, picks up taxi driver Chen Chi Min (Wayne Lai) for the night. He is divorced, lives on the outskirts of Hong Kong and has family problems of his own. The perfect victim therefore for Yieh as she begins a calculated terror in order to bring over her husband Kwan (Moses Chan) to Hong Kong...

Easily one of the most unsettling Cat III films ever made, it also thoroughly makes it clear from the get go that this is a nasty, grim and graphic experience, for a specific target audience. As simple as that. Take it or leave it! Because you won't find any justice or redeeming features here, "just" simply a terrific vehicle for the audience that's taken to heart the works of Billy Tang. I mention Billy and might as well to a smaller degree bring in Clarence Fok into the discussion as Intruder visually makes a stand, just like works such as Red To Kill and Remains Of A Woman did.

The golden era, if you will, of this kind of Cat III filmmaking was over by 1997 but not the ability of Hong Kong filmmakers to pour their entire being onto the screen in the form of darkness. While not a clear allegory of the 1997 handover, Tsang's intentions can definitely be argued to stem from that fact as his Mainland characters are pretty much the nastiest people alive, and they're coming to Hong Kong! Even though he puts Yan through a bit of emotional roller coaster as her biggest weakness turns out to be the image of innocence, it's a strong (in every sense of the word) character portrayal because he lays it in the hands of the fetching beauty Wu Chien-Lien. A thoroughly evil and devoted wife in the most extreme of ways, her shifting in both putting on a charade of sweetness for the outside world and her crumbling at the sight of Min's daughter, becomes highly disturbing when we also see the roads she's prepared to go down on. She's not so much reveling in her chance to torture but merely concentrating on a task that needs to be performed in order to further her relationship.

While it seemingly seems deep by those several rows of description, but by no means one-note, it's still a very simple character arc that Tsang is not asking us to sympathy with, like or love. As I said, this movie doesn't concern itself with a fair balanced view of the world so the portrayal here is what it's intended to be; dark and nasty as hell, something the ever so beautiful Wu Chien-Lien pulls off terrifically.

There obviously exist heartbreak in here when Chen Chi Min admits, as the torture goes on, that he's not a perfect character by any standards. You come back to the obvious message here that no one deserves this, especially not one that sees his faults and wants to eradicate those. And even if he didn't, Chen is still a disheartening victim of circumstance, most unfairly so but again Tsang Kan-Cheung isn't here to give us that and certainly that's where Intruder is going to find its detractors, understandably so. Wayne Lai, a hard working chameleon of an actor in Hong Kong films, who later would log a reversal performance in Human Pork Chop, emotes pitch perfect sympathy and mercilessly throws himself into the physical demand for the role. I'll readily admit that I cried when he's desperately pleading for his daughter's life and it's finally become easier to find the reference performance of Lai's. Moses Chan co-stars and Lam Suet logs a quick cameo towards the end. Lai Yuen Tung, playing Min's daughter deserves kudos as she displays uncanny bravery throughout and is really being put through a lot of abuse by Tsang Kan-Cheung.

Even though it does come from Milkyway, technical merits might as well have been lackluster but suitable for the grim atmosphere. Tsang Kan-Cheung and Milkyway's in-house director of photography Cheng Siu-Keung instead brings something better to the table, a pure playground cinematography-wise. Setting the majority of the narrative during a rain storm, bringing out the blue light because of it and an apartment set that just screams made for cinema, this is the connection to Billy Tang and Clarence Fok I'm talking about. Chen Chi Min's apartment consists of spots of moody lights that despite their obvious intention for the sake of film, becomes a highly atmospheric and disturbing part of Intruder. Horrific second-long details are revealed in the thunderstorm showers and it's every conceivable cinematography cliché made to work to excellent effect.

A relatively unknown entry amongst this kind of Category III filmmaking and amongst the Milkyway Image catalogue, for the crowd that desire this genre stuff (me), you'll get a highly accomplished and disturbing entry that easily ranks alongside the best of them such as Red To Kill. Tsang Kan-Cheung's only directorial contribution to Hong Kong cinema doesn't make apologies for what it is and looks for no redemption in its portrayal of a section of 1997 Hong Kong. The bad characters only come to the conclusion that they need to be more bad and that should really tell you if you're going to approach Intruder or not. As one who who has a, pick whatever expression you find suitable, sick/nasty/perverse fascination with this side of Hong Kong cinema, Intruder is everything I want. Pure gem.

The DVD:

Only available on a cropped vcd in Hong Kong, German label Adrenafilm does justice to Tsang Kan-Cheung's film. Cuts were required in Hong Kong at the time of release but reportedly, Adrenafilm sourced an uncut print. Most of the gore in close-ups were what Hong Kong censors snipped, which still leaves much hard hitting violence intact but it's a pleasure that a company goes these lengths to please the fans. The reinstated footage also blends seamlessly.

Presented framed at 1.83:1 approximately, the print sourced is in terrific condition with only slight damage in the form of vertical lines. Sharpness is great and blacks are solid, recreating the intended look in the most respectful of ways.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds crystal clear and despite mainly staying in the center channel, it still is atmospheric.

The optional English subtitles feature one or two spelling inaccuracies but otherwise on the whole seem excellent. German subtitles are also available.

Extras come in the form of a subtitled trailer, a 45 second slideshow of production stills and a 25-page text interview (in German) with writer/director Tsang Kan-Cheung.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson