Her Name is Cat
Though I suppose comparing director Clarence Ford
to the venerated American director George Cukor might seem fanciful, there
is no doubt that both directors seem much more comfortable and interested
in narrating stories filled with highly charged females. Of course Cukor
never had his female characters attired in red hot pants, strutting into
an office and shooting everyone in sight, cutting up a rival and boiling
her in a pot or plunging a hypodermic needle into a mans throat but
Ford has gleefully and stylishly shown women at their most dangerous and
their most alluring in films such as Dragon from Russia, Naked Killer,
Remains of a Woman, Cheap Killers, Her Name is Cat and Martial Angels.
One senses that Ford adores women in much the same way as Cukor did
- aesthetically more than physically he enjoys women who take control
of their lives, is fascinated from a distance with their aggressive sexuality
and is thrilled with their glamour factor.
In 1998 Ford created his most intriguing and stylish
film since Naked Killer by once again delving into the territory of a female
killer and her relationship with a man. In Fords world falling in love
with a man often leads to a womans destruction it is their Achilles
heel the chink in their armor love brings out their sublimated maternal
and self-sacrificing instincts which leaves them open to attack. Love with
a man rarely leads to anything good beyond fleeting moments of passion
and the penalty they eventually have to pay is high. Of course this theme
is also prevalent in many HK female assassin films Beyond Hypothermia,
The Other Side of the Sea, Black Morning Glory, Black Cat being examples
to be an efficient professional killer affections must be put aside.
In many of these films the female assassin is a cold killing machine who
is initially rewarded after falling in love by being able to come out of
their disassociated emotional shell but Ford is slightly more perverse
in his outlook his assassins are already fully realized and empowered
women who get very little from their often emotionally dysfunctional men.
The men are more of a burden than an enlightenment.
Her Name is Cat has its share of fans and seemingly
an equal share of detractors. It was one of the last attempts to resuscitate
the "girls with guns genre in a serious way (as opposed to recent frivolous
films like Cop Shop Babes or Fords own Martial Angels), but its weak box
office results pretty much put the final nail into the coffin of this genre
though hopefully it will be resurrected some day. In an attempt to give
the genre a different feel, Ford fills the screen with gobs of almost Wong
Kar Wai like splashy style (in particular ala Fallen Angels) garish off
setting colors, distorted dreamlike cinematography and quick edgy editing.
Ford though brings his own sense of fetishistic style with a perverse focus
on sexual fantasy, whips, handcuffs, bi-sexual pangs and Almen Wong. For
some the film simply drowns in this perceived pretentious style, but it
makes for some wonderfully visual scenes and gives the film an edge that
the script does not. Interestingly once Almen falls in love, much of this
style vanishes and the film loses its energy and becomes all too mainstream.
So not only does love lead to dire consequences even worse - it leads
to dull predictability.
In a bit of brilliant casting, Ford thrust the
fairly unknown (at the time) actress, Almen Wong, into a role in which
the actress needs to dominate the screen with her presence for the film
to work. Almen is more than equal to the task as she explodes on the screen
with a combustible combination of burning sexuality and impressive physicality.
The camera soaks luxuriously in these traits and fetishly narrows in on
her taut body, ample cleavage, high resolute cheekbones and sweaty workouts.
Ford has always been fascinated by sexually alluring and voracious performances
from Chingmy Yau, Nina Li, Carrie Ng and Kathy Chow and he lets Almen
loose on the screen like a wild majestic panther on the prowl for fresh
meat. This creates a problem though for the film the fresh meat that
she finds comes in the limp form of Michael Wong and by contrast to her
sizzle he seems like a passing weightless shadow - and the chemistry
that is needed to make the audience care about their fate is never created.
One never understands her passion for this man and her sudden turn into
a love struck woman never rings true.
The film plays out among a collage of homages
to other films. There are nods to Beyond Hypothermia - a lesbian
agent all too willing to betray and a liking for the simplicity of noodles,
Fallen Angels recording your life on a video camera, Chungking Express
secret apartment invasion and The Killer superimposing the changing
images of Almen and Michael ala Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee and protecting
a small child in the midst of a gunfight. Calling it homage of course might
be giving it a positive spin; others might call it a rehash of other film
ideas but Ford does impose his own warped imagination on top of it all
for much of the film.
In the film Almen is a killer recruited from the
Mainland and she performs a series of hits on triad heads. Michael is investigating
the killings and upon seeing Almen save a small child he becomes smitten
and pulls himself out of his depressed state caused by the breakup with
his wife, Kenix Kwok. He follows her realizes that she is behind the
assassinations and then Almen starts following him in a perverse game
of Peeping Tom. Love grows out of this like a strangled flower looking
to root. Almen wants out of the killing business so she can eat noodles,
watch cartoons and tie up Michael, but decides she has to take one last
job. Much of the plot is in fact routine, but it is driven by its subversive
style and a bravura performance from Almen Wong. If Ford hadnt gone soft
in the middle of the film it would have become a classic. The poster of
Almen has become an icon of HK film making an appearance on the book
cover of Hollywood East by Stefan Hammond but sadly this outfit never
makes an appearance in the film.
My rating for this film: 7.5