Love To Kill (1993)

Directed by: Billy Chung
Written by: Law Gam Fai & Lau Wing Kin
Producer: Kirk Wong
Starring: Anthony Wong, Elizabeth Lee, Danny Lee, Ha Ping, Eric Kei & Julie Lee

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Another one in the wave of Category III rated films that took Hong Kong not just a few steps towards the extreme with such films as Dr.Lamb, The Untold Story and Red To Kill. Love To Kill may be a play on that same title as the Billy Tang films but is actually directed by Billy Chung (Last Ghost Standing and the recent Shiver, starring Francis Ng) and produced by none other than Kirk Wong (director of Gunmen and Crime Story). So as obscure as these, what you can really call a genre in itself, Cat III films seemed to be, they did attract high profiles in the industry not just in front of the camera. It's no surprise that Love To Kill stars Anthony Wong, perhaps the most memorable participant of these movies, and reading about Billy Chung's film, it seems that it's received more consistent acclaim than others, not just from hardcore fans.

Jade (Elizabeth Lee) lives under a strict, abusive ruling by her psycho husband Sam (Anthony Wong). After being raped one night, she flees onto the street below where cop Hung (Danny Lee) happens to pass by. However, knowing what the consequences are for leaving Sam, Jade doesn't file charges. She is convinced by Hung that it's time to leave though and she takes shelter with him. Sam isn't about to let go or give her up that easily though...

Only one year after the Cat III wave secured its nasty reputation, many of the participants of Love To Kill had already found time to get on the wagon, especially actors Anthony Wong, Danny Lee and screenwriter Law Gam Fai who all had Dr. Lamb and The Untold Story under their belt by this point. Director Billy Chung went in furiously and quickly out of this kind of Cat III and didn't resurface until 3 years later in the directing capacity. That probably means nothing but the production's main driving forces, Chung and Kirk Wong, gave us one of the most memorable Cat III movies and left it at that. You can call that jumping on the bandwagon, albeit briefly but then again they made a permanent mark on the genre.

I have brought up the aspect concerning the so called danger of admitting you enjoy or appreciate this kind of Hong Kong cinema. Simply put, the actions playing before you such as rape and gory murder never approach entertaining and who's to say that a film with graphic violence can't be appreciated or, in the case of The Untold Story, award winning. Love To Kill qualifies as one Cat III flick with no glorification as far as the violence is concerned but succeeds as a tension filled thriller about domestic abuse of the worst kind (a familiar theme if you've followed Cat III cinema). Very much a real theme that is of course taken to over the top extremes but by throwing us right smack in the middle of one crumbling aspect of the Sam/Jade relationship after the other, Billy Chung suitably divides the viewers in the camps he should. Care for Jade's situation, where her only pieces of hope are her son and mother, is generated immediately while disgust for Sam is easy to come by quickly as well.

That's not to say it's a thoroughly well executed film and the, sadly I have to say, usual aspects of Cat III are again flaws here. Firstly, Law Gam Fai and Lau Wing King's explanation for Sam's behaviour as a husband is an expected one (abusive childhood) and they're lucky to have Anthony Wong to actually sell that rather cliché backstory. Jade on the other hand gets a slightly more believable background and reasoning for hanging on to such a clearly wrongful situation. She says that without Sam, she and her son Keung won't be able to live on financially and even though it hurts, the reality is what it is. The biggest flaw in the framework, you guessed it...comedy, mainly in the form of Danny Lee's cop character. Hung does have the good function of a third ray of sunlight in Jade's life but it stops right there. Instead the movie goes down the usual Cat III route with silly comedy and this middle section is actually a complete disaster because of it.

However, the final 30 minutes redeems that and like most Cat III movies such as the Daughter Of Darkness-films, the climax brings the movie home, although Love To Kill is far more consistent than that mentioned film also starring Anthony Wong. What Hong Kong filmmakers have shown previously is that they're good at the darkness that this kind of Cat III is known for and Chung continues that tradition. The tension between Jade and Sam is really well portrayed and the revelations along the way such as the deeper diggings into one crucial event in Sam's childhood goes chillingly well hand in hand with the present situation in his adult life. It is a hard watch in many ways but the further we go into this nightmare, one can't help to admire the skill it takes to get something this strong, grisly and violent on screen. The climax also gets my vote for one of the strongest in any Cat III film alongside Dr. Lamb and The Untold Story.

Take all that and combine it with strong performances and interplay from leads Elizabeth Lee and Anthony Wong, and Love To Kill, despite its flaws, ranks as a winner in the genre. It may feel wrong to look at and it's certainly an effort that will attract a special group of viewers. Category III can provide you with both merits and something akin to a guilty pleasure. With Billy Chung's film, I favor the former.

Quick note about the end credits to the film. In an odd twist, it actually consists of several snippets of extended and deleted footage. Amongst them a clearly longer torture sequence with Elizabeth Lee in the chains (as seen above).

The DVD:

You must turn to Taiwan for the best dvd release currently. Love To Kill is one of those titles that has been varying in length over the years on home video. The Hong Kong VHS and Laserdisc had several scenes trimmed and even dialogue. When then presented on dvd by City Connection, they used a longer print but the Cantonese audio from the trimmed version, resulting in one bad experience in terms of audio. To add insult to injury, no subtitles whatsoever are included on the Hong Kong dvd AND it's presented in full frame! The Taiwan dvd is letterboxed and features almost all the scenes and dialogue cut from the Hong Kong prints (asides from the rape of Julie Lee's character that appears here in shortened form).

Scholar presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.61:1 approximately and taken from a theatrical print, the image is not too hot but serviceable. Print damage reaches a moderate level and colours are decent at times also. As expected though, it's soft and darker scenes are the transfers biggest weakness. With low detail and black levels, they obscure some of the events but not as severely as you think. You take what you get and this is the most preferable version of the film even if you don't need subtitles (remember the audio remark).

There's only a Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 dub here that works decently in terms of being synced up to the actor's mouths. Being 2.0, the sound stays centered but sounds a bit muffled throughout. Once again, you take what you get.

The burned in English/Chinese subtitles get the job done with only a small degree of silly errors. They're readable at all times during the movie which is always a plus with these releases mastered directly from theatrical prints. No extras are included.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson