Death Traps

This 1960 production from director Wang Tianlin is somewhat off the Cathay beaten path as it diverges from their typical family oriented film into something more akin to the dark shadows of film noir. The premise is intriguing and in noir tradition the main protagonist is of less than stellar character, but unfortunately the direction has little snap to it and there is no suspense or tension created whatsoever. Helen Li Mei who was so good as the older unmarried woman in “Between Tears and Laughter” is poorly used here as are a few of the other actors with overacting being the word of the day. Part of my dissatisfaction with this film also revolves around the “helpless woman” syndrome – something that you don’t really see a lot of in Hong Kong films – especially from the main character – but this film sadly reeks with it.
Jieyun (Le Mei) has a hobby as she terms it – the rest of us would call alcoholism – which she picked up during her years as a hostess in a bar. She basically prefers seeing the world through bleary eyes and never met a drink that she didn’t like. Nevertheless she has managed to attract the love of nice guy architect Shouli (Roy Chiao), but he wants her to stop imbibing every night before he proposes to her. It gets a little tiring having to carry her home every night. So one evening he very cleverly (or so he thinks) puts on a show with another woman named Meigui (Ouyang Shafei) to make Jieyun think that he is leaving her because of her little hobby. So her answer to this – get stinking drunk.
In this very inebriated state she bumps into Mr. Cai in the parking lot and he persuades her to come home with him because she is in no shape to drive. Knowing that Mr. Cai isn’t exactly a boy scout, she proposes that he kill this other woman or as she slurs any woman that marries Shouli and writes him a check for $2,000. The next day she wakes up with a monster headache and a faint memory of hiring Mr. Cai to kill someone  - something that must happen to everyone at least once in their life I am sure. Most of the time though it’s just your cab driver and he isn’t listening to you anyway – but in this case Mr. Cai is a dangerous man and Jieyun can’t find him  - of course she could have just put a stop on that check but she didn’t think of that. Near deadly accidents begin to happen to Meigui – but then Shouli tells her it was all a joke – ha ha – and proposes marriage – and she accepts. Oops. Soon a man (Tien Ching) in a low brim felt hat and sunglasses seems to be everywhere she is – even when she goes to Macau. And where better than Macau for a film noir to play out.
This is a pretty good plot (and somehow reminiscent of an old American film that I can’t recall the title of) if done with some edge and nerve plucking tension, but there is none of that here. Everyone acts rather stupidly – gee there has been a man standing across the street watching the house for hours – maybe I should call the police – or at a minimum not leave my wife alone. Jieyun spends much of the film looking scared and biting her fingers, but won’t tell anybody about her little contract. It all feels poorly stitched together like a cheap “B” film that is not helped by a fairly beat up and at times washed out print source. A couple plusses about the film – there are some nice location shots of Macau and this certainly posits a new solution for drinking problems – just hire someone to kill you and see if you feel like drinking – just be ready to duck.

My rating for this film: 3.0