The Happy 60's Housewife Isn't: A Cause to Kill (Hong Kong, 1969)

Here, the murderer is symbolized by a pink purse on a single, fashionable bed . . . 

Could it be? Yes it is. This is a pulpy Lifetime movie Hong Kong *Noir film chronicling the schemes of a murderous housewife. 

Ivy Ling Po, of Shaw Brother's Huangmei opera fame, plays Sin Lei, a retired actress who can't quite seem to get over that one time her publisher husband had an affair . . . and that time he didn't admit to it even after she went through all the trouble of blackmailing him.

One wonders how she manages to keep any strong feelings burning in the direction of these adulterous pudding faces (see pudding-faced-guilt below). . . but there's no accounting for one's taste in murder victims.

PF#1, the cheating husband (Kwan Shan)
PF#2, the other woman (Chiao Chiao)
Let's be clear, despite the theme of this month, this movie is not about obsessive love, but rather an obsessive need to take revenge for a series of petty slights.

Sin's big murder plan (that she blackmails another fellow into carrying out for her) doesn't make much sense. She seems to have chosen the spot of her husband's demise--the film developing room--less out of practicality, and more out of the convoluted meaning she derives out of the place itself.

The murder is scheduled neatly for the next evening, when dear hubby will be home alone working on his photography, and wifey is scheduled to be at the nightclub with colleagues.

It's not an Asian nightclub in the 60's without a pasty blonde item girl. 

Of course things begin to go wrong almost immediately, and when the murder is attempted, one can't help but notice the fact that the hired killer does not look very confident in his own skills.

And wouldn't you know it, he had good reason to be worried, for this is a Hong Kong movie . . . and even tweedy publishers are secretly trained in Kung Fu.

Hubby stabs his attacker with a pair of scissors, and then calls his wife in a panic. The police are called, hubby goes to bed at his wife's command, and wifey tries to remove any evidence that could link the assassin to her.

But when the police arrive, who is going to look like the bad guy? The killer, the would-be murderer, or the murder-planner? If you guessed this film might be heading toward an "innocent man is framed" trope, you're not the only one. Hubby guesses as much when he wakes up the morning after. When Sin says, "It was self-defense . . ." he replies, "I still killed a man." My guess is that he's seen a lot of Hindi films.

Will hubby be framed forever? And will be pudding face #2 be called up to convince the law of her old flame's innocence?

Extra points for this detective's (on right) energetic and smooth style (courtesy of actor, Huan Tsung-hsun), making even a conversation with the PF#2 (on left) seem interesting. 

More importantly, will Sin get what's coming to her? [Probably, kind of, of course.]

And should this woman go up against Sharmila Tagore and Helen in the race for the MOST VAMP-Y EYE MAKEUP of 1969 award?

Ling Po is a new fascination of mine. Known for her gender-bending roles, there's certainly a masculine quality to her presence, if not her figure. Whether it was because of all the young male characters on her filmography, or because of an inner trait of unshakable forthrightness, Ling Po projects a calm confidence I have yet to see in another female actress from the period.

In the roles I've seen, she doesn't waste much time attempting to allure the audience (or other characters) . . . instead she uses her wits and good-old-fashioned intimidation to get what she wants.

I also liked the shifting tones of this film, from modish pink and green upholstery to the use of shadow and the conversations by the light of cigarette. But, considering the length of this film (only 98 minutes), there's really no excuse for the time it takes to get going. Almost nothing happens in the first 20 minutes . . . nothing that couldn't have been condensed to five. The actors (with the exception of the oddly energetic Iftekhar police inspector) always seem to be perilously close to snoring under the soporific effects of the material they are given. The real murder here is of the dialogue . . . which is strangled by repetitive and needlessly diluted exposition throughout. This is one of the only times I've thought that a film would have been more interesting to watch without subtitles. Especially since it would have created some real mystery in a not very mysterious story. Someone behind this script obviously thought "suspense" was synonymous with "sluggishness."

Actually, PF#2's name is Su Su  and she has a nice comic sideplot revolving around the ironic nature of her profession: mystery fiction writer. I'll also admit that at this point in the film, I actually started liking her.
I will say that this film gets better as it goes along, and Sin Lei and PF#2's warring attempts at creating false stories about the cause of the murder is fairly clever stuff . . .

Even Sin Lei is a little impressed with her rival.

. . . and sometimes it's even a little funny. Just a little, mind you.

And, *spoiler* Sin's parting "shot" at the end is also just about the best thing I've ever seen.

Also, in miscellaneous news, apparently Pakistan has been the stereotypical place where villains go to hide out for more than a few years.

I originally took a chance on this film based on Ling Po's unusually pulpy role in it . . something I HAD to see after watching her act under the the physical and vocal constraints demanded by operatic spectacle. In that aspect, I really wasn't disappointed, and also I think I could really get into other Hong Kong thrillers/pulp from this period. (I'm sure some have to be more fun than this.) I just wish Ivy Ling Po could be found in more of them.

*Note: I have read elsewhere that this film is based on Dial M for Murder. I've seen a lot of Hitchcock, but not that particular film, so I can't filmi-contrast that particular connection for you this time :)


Popular Posts