He Lives By Night

This early 80’s thriller borrows heavily from a few of the suspense masters – black humor from Hitchcock, visuals and music from Argento, a transvestite serial killer from De Palma – but it overlays this with a comedic style that is clearly all Hong Kong. This isn’t too surprising in that the producers are Karl Maka and Dean Shek – two of the founders of Cinema City.
The schizophrenic ping pong effect of the film is very much in the tradition of HK in which the audience appears to prefer their horror screams mixed with an equal amount of laughs – but no matter how many HK horror films I see I still find it somewhat disconcerting. One moment a woman is being sliced and strangled and in the next the protagonists are indulging in some nonsensical shenanigans that seem to be from a different film.
This mix of horror and comedy is established immediately in the film. In the opening scene a woman walks down an alleyway in the late night hours and finds herself trapped in a series of hanging multi-colored sheets. She frantically attempts to fight her way through them as they are being sliced one by one by an unseen assailant. This is all very Argento in style and even accompanied by a dense Tangerine Dream like score. Following this is the first sighting of Sylvia Chang standing in sultry repose after coming out from the shower. She is dressed very sexily in revealing lingerie – only to have her swing the door aside to reveal that the body was painted on a door – and that Sylvia is primly covered up in a giant towel.
The killing took place right outside of her apartment and on her way to work as a late night talk radio host, she comes across the investigating officers – Kent Cheng and a very young baby faced Simon Yam. Both the pipe smoking Cheng and Yam – named Lousy Wong here – take an interest in Sylvia and decide to pursue her romantically. This romantic triangle along with a bumbling portrayal of the cops provide most of the comedy – though much of it is quite lame unfortunately.

More murders begin taking place and Sylvia chastises the killer on her radio show as being less than a man – never a smart thing to do in a horror film. Of course these types of films always depend on the fact that the killer is always listening to her show at the appropriate time – a fact that the police assume later when they try to trap him.

The killer (Eddie Chan) has had a weakness for women in white stockings ever since he came home unexpectedly to find his wife in bed with a transvestite dressed in that way. After leaving the mental institution, he has taken to dressing up – applying a little makeup – putting on high heels and going out on the town – in hopes of finding a woman in white stockings – then stalking her and killing her. Not exactly a load of laughs.
The constant light humor doesn’t really allow the film to ever create a sense of tension and suspense – but a number of individual scenes play out nicely. The murders are well staged and the victims are fleshed out enough to make their demise more than just a cinematic device. One murder in particular becomes a wonderful game of cat and mouse that goes on for quite a while.
Finally, Sylvia decides to become the bait – dresses herself in long white stockings – and goes on television to entice him – again assuming that he will be watching TV in the middle of the day. He is of course – and comes after her with a sharp blade and a maniacal glint in his eye.

My rating for this film: 7.0



DVD Information:

Distributed by Mega Star/Media Asia

The transfer is excellent - especially considering the age of the film. There is a bit of speckling at times - but not too bad - and the night scenes of which there are quite a few are very clear.

Removable subtitles with choices of Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English.

9 Chapters

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

Includes it's own trailer and the trailers for "Fatal Love", "Till Death Do We Scare", and "My Cousin, the Ghost".

Easy to read subs.