Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Intruder : Cat III Part 4

Tsang Kan Cheong's Intruder is one of the lesser known Milkyway image films and along with Mad detective, the only one of their films to receive a category III rating purely for violent content.
Intruder was made in 1997, the same year as the handover of Hong Kong to China, a time of great uncertainty in the region and perhaps for this reason Intruder is almost unbearably bleak in tone throughout its running time.

Tsang Kan Cheong is primarily known as a writer in Hong Kong cinema having credits including many of Stephen Chow's movies, including Kung fu hustle, Shaolin soccer and King of comedy, hard to imagine given the tone of Intruder. Its surprising that Intruder is his only directing credit, considering what a great job he does with this film, perhaps directing wasn't a good experience for him.

Before seeing the film, my first recollection of Intruder was of it being sold as a slasher movie, which it certainly is not, a more accurate description would be Hitchcock Hong Kong style.
Intruder is an incredibly tense exercise in suspense, it wrings out every last drop of tension possible by utilising a simple but almost perfect score to underpin a series of harrowing events in a plot that is unpredictable and pretty nasty, a potent combination in a film like this.

I won't into the plot of Intruder, the unpredictability of the film is one of its biggest strengths, what I will say though is that it starts as it means to go on with a brutal girl on girl strangulation, a seriously intense struggle that seems to last forever, and really sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Wu Chien Lien and Lai Yiu Cheung put in excellent performances, both are completely believable in their roles, Lai Yiu Cheung being especially good as an unfortunate taxi driver.

The version of Intruder I saw was the Chinastar vcd release which is now long out of print, and is pretty horrible all round. The vcd is full screen except for the opening and closing credit sequences, meaning some of the subtitles are chopped off on either side of the frame. The Image and sound quality are also pretty poor and to make it worse the disc is cut, it doesn't look like much is missing but the cuts are very jarring as it looks like they were done with a cleaver! The only other option available as far as I can tell is a German dvd, also apparently out of print but anamorphic, uncut and with English subs. The vcd is better than nothing but is far from an optimal presentation, I would love to get hold of the German disc.

Certainly with the cuts in this version, I don't think Intruder warrants the category III rating for how graphic the violence is, its more for the psychological feel of it, as the tone of the movie is so relentlessly bleak, it intensifies the power of the violence. The violence is portrayed in such a realistic manner, almost every instance of violence in Intruder is a hard fought struggle, rather than the usual quick, easy kills we are used to seeing in movies. It shows how hard it would actually be to kill another person, this only adds to the intensity of the film.

Intruder is not a perfect film by any means, in particular there is an exposition scene around two thirds of the way into the film which is clumsy at best, but considering the power of the film such small flaws are easy to forgive, and for me its easily one of the best Hong Kong films of its genre.

Just to add it also has one of the best subtitles I have seen for a while "I fail to.... excrete." Comedy gold.


YTSL said...

Hi A Hero Never Dies --

If memory serves me right, "Intruder" was (and still is) the film that is Milkyway Image's lowest grossing work at the Hong Kong box office ever -- and is viewed as the movie that torpedoed Wu Chien Lien's film career. So sad, really, because I don't think it's that bad a work at all. I guess in the case of Wu Chien Lien that her role in the movie changed her image too much -- from one that movie goers preferred. :S

A. said...

Wasn't Exiled also category III? Or was that simply category III because of some Triad handshake?

Intruder did seem to do poor in the box office though. The Hong Kong Film Archive says it only made HK$ 487,050. Ouch! Even Story of Ricky made more than that!

A hero never dies said...

Hi YTSL, I'm not surprised it didn't do well, its not exactly a feel good film, its a real shame for Wu Chien Lien though, she was really good in this and also in Beyond hypothermia too.

A. Exiled was Cat III but for the triad thing rather than the violence. That really is a small take, the film deserved better.

Kingwho? said...

Ahhhh! I love it! It is such a unique film. The story is wonderful, the style is dark and forboding, and it moves at a clip. It is a shame that the HK audiences didn't take to it. It was made during a fickle and uncertain time in HK and in HK cinema, so I guess the audiences staying away is understandable?

Being an outsider to HK and it's cinema, I've only read about the run up to the handover, and really don't know if it was as palpable among HK citizens? I personally imagine so. That adds an extra dimension of uncertainty to the film. That must be an uneasy thing for an audience to take.

I think this is a masterpiece. It's entirely engrossing and such a shame that this killed Wu Chien-lien's career. The writing and directing is nothing short of amazing.

It's theme, considering time and place, is esoterically HK but the film taken in a more broad sense is globally a frightening thriller.

I hope to put my poster up on my blog this weekend. And I will probably cut and paste this response onto the post too! =P

A hero never dies said...

Love the ending too, pretty chilling considering what has gone before.

I agree the direction is outstanding, would love to see that dvd copy as it can only improve.

Can't wait to see that poster Kingwho? I couldn't even find an online picture of it, so the actual poster must be extremely rare!

achillesgirl said...

I didn't know this killed Wu Chien Lien's career! Even though the movie is quite brutal and I thought Wu was awesome. Oh well.

Rex Saigon said...

INTRUDER was released several months AFTER the Hong Kong handover, when at least some of the fear of the mainland had probably started to subside. I suspect it was the last (or at least one of the last) explicitly anti-mainlander movies produced in the city, which certainly had a rich history of them (perhaps embodied best in the first LONG ARM OF THE LAW. Had it been released pre-handover, say in 1995 or 1996, it's box-office returns would've been more substantial, though likely not stratospheric. I doubt the post-handover release slot was the intent when it was being shot, so who knows what circumstances led to that decision. Regardless of what it did for Wu's career, it simply had the misfortune of exploring an out-moded (and outlawed?) subject.

Dr. Lamb. said...

My wife and I watched Intruder last night and found it to be a very interesting film. It plays on the tension of the looming handover to great effect. Paranoia permeates the entire film. Intruder is a nasty little thriller that really manages to scare you with its all out nihilism.

It examines the identity of pre-handover Hong Kong while refusing to comment on the future of it. The most unsettlingly part of the film is that it ends in uncertainty.

With that said, I still find myself wrestling with the politics of the film. It’s hard not to view Wu Chien Lien and Moses Chan as the personification of ruthless Others trying desperately to assimilate. It’s certainly not hard to see why the audience didn’t response to this film. It takes a hard look at the uneasiness brought on by the inevitable handover and tells its audience that they damn right should be scared for what’s next to come.

A hero never dies said...

Interesting comments Dr. Lamb, the movie certainly wears it political heart on it's sleeve!

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