Night Caller

Since this film was released in 1985 to minimum box office appeal (ranked 53rd for the year as per HK Movie Database) it has slowly gained a reputation as one of the better suspense films to come out of HK. And for good reason as Phillip Chan (best known as Chow Yun Fat’s supervisor in Hard Boiled) directs a tautly paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat (or bed in my case!) for much of the film. Just as important though is the fact that it slows down from time to time to allow for some character development. The character development is crucial because it makes the outcome all the more nerve wracking.

People have pointed out that the opening scene seems very much influenced by the Italian slasher films of the time – bloody, brutal, stylish – as a woman is butchered by an unseen (but known to the victim) assailant. This is all witnessed by the woman’s young daughter who hides in the closet stricken with fear. Her doll though begins talking and the killer realizes that someone else is there. The killer starts thrusting the blade through the closet panels in search of the little girl. So begins this little thriller.

It switches gears though as three cops are assigned to run the killer down. Phillip Chan and Melvin Wong are partners and Pat Ha is a new cop on the force just learning the ropes. Chan is a revelation here as he gives a charismatic portrayal as a tough as nails cop with a strong sense of justice. Wong is also terrific as a slightly mellower cop with a beautiful wife waiting for him at home.

Chan, Wong and Pat Ha
The film then becomes more of a police procedural film as the three of them try and run down clues and question suspects. The sexy Pauline Wong is warned by Chan that she may be next on the list. Halfway through though, the identity of the slasher is revealed to the viewer, as this person captures Wong who is getting too close and begins torturing him.
This is when the film goes into high gear as Chan and Ha desperately search for some answers before time runs out for their friend. Leads keep running into dead ends – and so they fear will their partner. Chan directs this in a wonderfully precise manner without a wasted moment and the tension rises as the killer gets closer and closer to deciding that Wong is expendable.

There are a few funny little quirky scenes that lighten the mood a bit and add coloring to the film. Such as the coroner pulling out a drawer with a corpse and reaching for a cold beer inside or the killer’s freaky accomplice who’s name is Mickey breaking into a perverse dance and singing ”Hey Mickey you’re so fine. Blow my mind. Hey Mickey” to a tied up Wong.

One of the main reasons I wanted to see this besides it’s fine reputation was to see Pat Ha in a film. She gained immortality in my eyes with her brilliantly cool performance as the efficient assassin in Yuen Biao’s 1988 film On the Run. Her career spanned only ten years from 1982 - 1992 and she made far too few films in that time.  Here regretfully she really doesn’t have much to do but tag after Chan – though she does have a lovely On the Run moment near the end.

Ha and Pauline Wong
This is just an excellent though modest film that will definitely involve you – and I am surprised that Chan apparently only directed a few films after this one.

My rating for this film: 7.5