On the Run: Fugitive Dramas
“Let’s go.” (Pat Ha, “On The Run”)
Fugitive films employ the device of separation
from normal obligations or personal ties by being on the run. Some
HK films followed the cinematic tradition of “Bonnie and Clyde” to depict
intense relationships forged by acute external threat. Examples include
“Organized Crime and Triad Bureau” (1994), “Legendary Couple” (1995) and
“Enemy Shadow” (1995). Some depict rather conventional, subordinate
romantic interests for the principal male stars (e.g., Anthony Wong, Simon
Yam), while others permit a more subtle examination of emotions, trust
and betrayal (“Enemy Shadow”). In these films the extreme circumstances
apparently permit exploration of loyalties and conflicts that might otherwise
subvert relations with less compromised partners. By placing the
relationship within the context of the partner’s actions, competing interests
or loyalties may be explored. In “Enemy Shadow” Jade Leung’s former
policewoman gradually discovers that her lover is, in fact, a ruthless
killer. Here, neither party is redeemed by their relationship.
However, it is noteworthy that such extreme circumstances should be needed
in order to prompt such examination.
In one of the best films of this type (“On The
Run,” 1988), Pat Ha Man-chik plays a stone-cold contract killer who is
imported from Thailand for a hit on a female police detective. Her
own suffering and exploitation is only hinted, but represents a powerful
undercurrent. After being caught by the victim’s estranged husband
(Yuen Biao), the pair is hunted by a gang of corrupt detectives who attempt
to have them killed. Under the pressure of pursuit, the roles of
Yuen Biao’s and Pat Ha’s characters subtly change. As he is wounded,
she gradually assumes the stronger role of protector. This is humanizing
and liberating for both of them – even though they inevitably fail.
Darkly paranoid and sparing in its dialog, this is an excellent combination
that illustrates just how distorted, superficial or exploitative so many
other screen relationships in action cinema can be.
A thematically similar film, “The Other Side of
the Sea” (1994), involves a deceptively languid opening in which Michelle
Lee’s character seeks anonymous refuge amid the quiet rhythms of a fishing
community on Lantau Island. The violence of her past is glimpsed
through a series of flashbacks, presenting progressively more jarring contrasts
with the tranquil present. As in “On the Run,” she’s a foreign-born
killer – a Vietnamese – who is now herself the expendable target of a contract.
Following the movie’s metaphor of a storm, gunplay and violence eventually
wash over the protagonists. Once again, the interplay of cold gunplay
and emerging well-acted romance succeeds in subverting expectations.
Michelle Lee is the stronger partner in an emerging romantic pairing.
She is not only more lethal but also more interesting. However, the
couple’s love is not the beginning, but an end – a postscript to a story
told retrospectively. This film essentially improved on the plot
and action quotient of “The Black Morning Glory” (1993), in which Lee also
played a hitwoman who becomes romantically involved with a peaceful figure.
In “Women On The Run” (1993), an unexpectedly
strong performance (from a Cat. III title) pairs two women. One,
an undercover cop played by Cat. III actor Cheung Yai-ling portrays a relatively
conventional dependence on her slick, sociopathic, married boyfriend.
In typical HK police movie fashion, he’s also her supervisor. However,
the real power of the film comes from newcomer Joh Yung who delivers a
credible performance as a naive rural Mainlander who, after leaving her
village with her boyfriend, is plunged into drug abuse and prostitution.
As a hardened, cynical addict she is turned against a drug gang by the
HK police, teamed with Cheung. Although betraying its Cat. III pedigree
in places, Yung also wanders through a seedy underworld of drug addiction,
betrayal and police brutality. She delivers a good martial arts performance,
including a staff form. However, she is most compelling while arguing
against the policewoman’s continued faith in her lover and the “system.”
“Legendary Couple” (1995) pits Chingmy Yau and
Simon Yam against a preposterous script from which only the death of their
characters provides release. Nevertheless, it may be noted that,
even here, the screen relationship that seems temporarily redeeming proves
A few films defy simple categorization.
“Her Judgment Day” (1992) features two women who must flee from a triad
gang, while “Murders Made to Order” (1993) features an excellent
performance by Maggie Siu Mei-kei as an undercover police officer who becomes
compromised by getting too deeply involved in her cover as an assassin.
All too quickly she realizes that almost everyone is duplicitous – and
that she has become the target. An emerging relationship with her
contractor – well acted by Waise Lee – becomes particularly problematic
for both. As an additional bonus, this film builds directly on an
earlier title, “Sting of the Scorpion” (1992) – picking up where the earlier
vengeance plot ended.