A Cause to Kill

Though most of the Shaw Brother’s films seem to have been either original scripts or derived from Chinese literary sources, some of them were clearly based on Hollywood films. The Umetsugu musicals have Hollywood written all over them in style and plot, The Lady Professional has echoes of  “Point Blank”, Torrent of Desires follows the plotlines of "Written on the Wind", The Sexy Killer owes much to the Blaxploitation film “Coffy” and A Cause to Kill (1969) is a direct “borrowing” of the Alfred Hitchcock film, “Dial M for Murder” (1954).
A Cause to Kill makes a few intriguing changes though that actually give the film a grittier and grayer moral balance, but it doesn’t approach the levels of suspense that Hitchcock could elicit from his film – though admittedly knowing the plot of “Dial M for Murder” certainly lessened lots of potential tension on my part. If you haven’t seen the Hitchcock film (go see it!), then this film may take on a much higher pitch of anxiety. There are two major switches that director Mu Shih-chieh throws at the viewer – first he changes genders around so that instead of a male (Ray Milland) trying to kill his wife (Grace Kelly), Ivy Ling Po wants to do away with her husband, Kwan Shan. Secondly in “Dial M” the intended victim is as innocent as a tollhouse cookie, while here the wife has a good reason to murder her husband – thus the title. This adds an interesting sympathetic level to the murder plot that the original didn’t have and leads to an ending that has some tragic overtones.
This was certainly a different sort of role for Ivy as she approached the end of her active career. During this very lengthy career that began in the early 1950’s at the age of fourteen, she did not have many negative roles. She was primarily famous for her “huang mei” (Chinese opera) roles as a man or as a swordswoman in films such as “Lady General Hua Mulan”, but here as the very calculating and quick thinking wife, she is terrific – hard on the outside, fragile on the inside. This role must have been fun for her and a rare opportunity to dress up in chic contemporary clothes and smoke!
Ivy learns that her husband (Kwan Shan, never looking more like his daughter Rosamund) had an affair with a female novelist (Chiao Chiao – One Armed Swordsman, Trail of the Broken Blade) and if he had come to her and confessed his faithlessness she would have forgiven him. But he never did and her bitterness has grown like a cancer and all she wants is to kill her husband and have his ex-lover attend his funeral. So she puts a plot in motion to accomplish this. She is an ex-movie star – but announces that she is coming out of retirement and that she wants Chiao Chiao to write the script for her new vehicle. This forces Chiao Chiao to come from Singapore to Hong Kong.
She then hires a killer to murder Kwan one evening when she is out to dinner – she will call him at a certain time to see if her husband is dead. The plan goes awry though when instead Kwan turns the tables and stabs the killer to death. Not one to lose an opportunity though, Ivy quickly sets up evidence to frame her husband for murder and he is arrested. Kwan’s only hope is the determined Chiao Chiao and a policeman (Huang Tsung-hsun) who feels something is just not right with the set up – just how did the victim get into the apartment?
Though nearly the entire film takes place inside the home of Ivy and Kwan (showing its theatrical lineage), it is nicely shot and the camera moves about at will to get various angles, it is also well acted with the three main roles being taken up by legends at that time and the décor gives the film a nice sleek feel to it. I am sure I would have enjoyed it much more if I hadn’t already known the plot, but even as it is I found it entertaining. As a minor note of interest, Chiao Chiao and Huang had been married at one point in real life, but were divorced by the time they made this film together. Mu Shih-chieh was actually the director’s Chinese name, but his real name was Sanro Murakami – yet another Japanese filmmaker that the Shaws brought over. He made two other films for them – Dark Rendezvous and Hellgate.

My rating for this film: 6.5