Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Deadly Farce: THE SAVIOUR (1980)

I usually don't review Hong Kong movies because of the fallout from the Asian Invasion of the late '90s when every goddamn fanboy on the street was an expert, every goddamn movie had to have a two-fisted shoot-out and what was once cool became serious overkill. And, to be completely honest, there are others that are much more knowledgeable and passionate on the subject out there in the Bloglands. I still watch a few here and there. Mostly revisits of classics, but occasionally a Jimmy Wang Yu film that I haven't seen before. On occasion there are a few films that have been staring me in the face for years. This is one.

Long before Ronny Yu embarrassed himself with boxing kangaroos and dueling teen killers, he made a name for himself with comic horror and fantasy films. I've never been a big fan, but for some reason his early films have been tugging at me. His second film, THE SAVIOUR is not at all what you might expect after glancing over his resume.

Hong Kong is in the grip of terror as a serial killer has sliced up two prostitutes and has just taken his third. CID Inspector Tom (Bai Ying, of the 3D classic DYNASTY) is a chain-smoking, take-no-prisoners-take-no-shit cop who has had a string of dead partners to his credit. Of course one of them is not dead, says his new partner, nicknamed "19" as he is officer No. 1919 (Kent Chang). To which Tom replies, "he is paralyzed. You can visit him if you have the time." Oh I got a baaaaad feeling about this. As does Tom's gweilo boss who yells at him while constantly blowing his nose (I'm guessing this is some sort of in-joke about white people). Apparently the boss is miffed that of the two robbers that Tom was supposed to apprehend, a grand total of two of them are now dead. As a reward, he and his new partner are now in charge of the prostitute murders. I guess that's one perp nobody will mind if the cops blow away.

Yeah, I think you got him

Tom and 19 stalk the criminal underbelly trying to get clues on who is doing the killings, their styles clashing. 19 is of the old-school, yelling, threatening and beating everyone into telling him what he wants to hear. Tom is of the new-school. Shoot first, as questions later. Why aren't they making any progress? Meanwhile the killer, twisted by the memory of his mother's razorblade suicide, keeps finding new bodies to drop under their noses. Appently Ronny was just as impressed with the casting of one of the victims as much as I was, as he has her take her top off, not once, not twice, but four times in under a minute. Makes me want to forgive him for that whole FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) mess. Well, almost.

While the rich and influential father of the killer tries to do everything to sabotage the investigation, such as sending a hitman after Tom, Tom manages to talk a casino girl who's best friend was a victim into serving as bait for the killer. Befriending him to try and catch him red handed, as it were. Granted the plot itself is nothing really new and even feels a bit like it was ripped straight out of the Martin Beck novel "Roseanna" (published in 1965), but the whole sleazy grindhouse atmosphere really push the movie beyond the plot.

I love how Yu sets up the film with quick cuts of Tom getting up to go to work, grabbing his gear, and hopping in his Datsun (that looks like some sort of HK version of the 280ZX). It sets up the realism of his character going to work, but does it with a '70s style. That's pretty much the entire movie. It says "hey, this is hard, cold and real" but does it while blasting the audience in the face with stylized exploitation. Also, in between blowing away perps, Inspector Tom is given a softer edge by being a foster father to the "fat" kid in the local orphanage. However instead of taking the kid to the movies, or whatever passes for an amusement park in Hong Kong (a casino?), he takes the kid to the beach, tells him if someone punches him to punch back and about his life as a cop. Damn, that kid's going to need some rich folks to adopt him, I can see those psychiatry bills stacking up fast. The next time Tom sees the kid he has two black eyes. Can you hear the muted horns?

I have to hand it to him, Yu really goes for some dark and bloody grindhouse style exploitation here, which really doesn't seem like it would be in his wheelhouse, and he does it well. There really isn't much in the way of humor and what social and political commentary it makes is buried under gobs of crime violence, taking it's cue from post-DIRTY HARRY American cop films, yet pre-dating the Psycho vs. Stripper cycle of the '80s. Great sleazy stuff that's well worth breaking your HK celibacy for.

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