... aka: He Lives by Night
... aka: Killer Stockings
... aka: Koroshi no sutokkingu
... aka: Night Fright
... aka: Ye ging wan
After leaving the nightclub where she works, a French showgirl is slashed with a utility knife and then strangled to death with her own white silk stocking while caught up in a bunch of multi-colored sheets hanging up in an alleyway. It's a scene that could have been plucked right out of a Dario Argento movie and one that partially informs the visual style of this offbeat Hong Kong production. But to assume this is just a stylish horror film or (bigger mistake) an homage to something else isn't giving it due credit. Outside of a few of the murder set pieces and some colorful lighting, this does its own thing, has its own tone (which is almost nothing like the Euro giallo or U.S. / Canadian slashers), is filled with humor (both lighthearted and twisted and, again, nothing at all like giallo or slasher flicks) and puts a quirky romance right at its center. In other words, this is not only not a copycat but it isn't really what I'd call an homage either.
The showgirl's murder happens right outside the window of late night radio show hostess Sissy (Sylvia Chang). Though a tomboy who usually dresses down, Sissy's mix of wit and sultry-voiced on air flirting has won her many male admirers. Among those is a nameless obsessed psycho played by Bing-Sum Hui, who's so into her that he uses her photos as wallpaper and has a mannequin in her likeness that he talks to. The stalker frequently calls her up to discuss his romantic designs on her and, when rejected, usually ends the conversation with a threat ("I'll kill you sooner or later!") He even starts trying to take credit for the string of murders following the showgirl's even though he's not actually the killer. And he's not the only one who's interested in her...
Pipe-smoking police chief Dragon (Kent Cheng) and his underling Wong (Yam Tat Wah / Simon Yam), the main detectives investigating the killer, have both fallen for the charms of Sissy. Dragon is pretty overt in wanting to marry her, keeps asking her out, goes to expensive and sometimes ridiculous lengths to try to impress her (see: the disco scene) and even lets her read classified case files from the investigation. Wong, or "Lousy Wong" as she's nicknamed him, has known Sissy since school and keeps his attraction to her a secret but is clearly jealous that Dragon is pursuing her and always trying to wedge himself into their plans.
When she's not playing music, answering letters and dishing out advice during "3 Hours with Sissy" our plucky heroine is commenting on the news, which also attracts the attention of the killer. Trying to psychoanalyze him publicly, making comments about him having no friends, being a chicken and a "cuckold" and then inviting him to call in to the show, ends up putting her in peril. She eventually even allows herself to be used as a decoy by the police and goes on TV to directly appeal to a specific fetish the psycho has.
The killer (revealed early on so I'm not ruining any plot twists here) turns out to be Eddie (Eddie Chan [sometimes Chen]). By day he's a polite, mild-mannered, well-dressed Gucci shoe salesman who keeps to himself. By night he's slapping on female attire and heading out to slash up women who happen to be wearing white stockings. He even has his eye on a young girl who lives in his slummy apartment block with her abusive, neglectful parents. After he saves her from being hit by a car, she becomes friendly with him, makes him a card and starts calling him "uncle." But her merely wearing white socks drives him up the wall.
A flashback reveals that Eddie was once a successful architect whose life was ruined by a cheating wife. In order to mess around behind his back, the wife's lover started dressing in drag and pretending to be a female friend so Eddie wouldn't catch on to the affair. After finding the two in bed together, he strangled his wife and slit the guy's throat. It was then off to a spell in a mental institution before he was released back into society. He strangles a punkette after she and her male friend (in Kiss make-up) rob a convenience store and, during the film's best scene, breaks into the home of Suzie (Elaine Jin), a bitchy housewife whose husband is always out of town, and murders her while her friend (Mabel Kwong) hides behind a shower curtain. With the cross-dressing killer and use made of both split screen and hazy soft focus photography, a lot of this actually seems as influenced by Brian De Palma's then-popular Dressed to Kill (1980) as anything else.
Dragon and Lousy Wong, who pretend to be the killer to scare Sissy on multiple occasions (including putting on a Santa Claus mask and accosting her in a dark alley as she walks home!) are two of the most ludicrously unprofessional cops you'll see in any film and it's here where the film sometimes flounders. While some of their scenes are amusing (sometimes even hilarious) their ineptitude and clownish behavior gets annoying after awhile. But, thankfully, this picks back up again for a lively (and lengthy!) finale featuring a pursuit through the radio station at night, cops running around in their underwear (and seemingly unable to use an elevator or even walk up stairs properly) and the killer pushing a 7-UP machine through the hallway trying to crush our leading lady.
The director has had a pretty interesting career. Born in the UK, he studied in London before relocating to Hong Kong to work in TV and film (1985's The Island seems to be his only other HK genre credit). Afterward, he made the Jude Law vampire movie Immortality (1998; aka The Wisdom of Crocodiles) in the UK, the Cabin by the Lake TV movies in Canada (2000 -2001), The Darkling (2000; another TV movie) in the U.S., the Steven Seagal action film Out of Reach (2004) in Poland and the Wesley Snipes action film The Detonator (2006) in Romania. He then returned to Hong Kong to make the horror film Baby Blues (2013) but then came back to America to shoot The Jade Pendant (2017) just last year in Utah. Guess he loves to travel.
The screenplay is from Kin Lon, who scripted a number of other genre films in the 80s and 90s and went on to direct some as well, including the great HEARTBEAT 100 (1987), which kind of fine-tuned some of the same things attempted here, Into the Night (1988) and Banana Spirit (1992). The cast includes Carroll Gordon, Eric Tsang (also the production manager), Billy Lau as a convenience store cashier and veteran actor Kung-Wu Huang as the radio station security guard who keeps a box of weapons (including a nail-lined club, brass knuckles and nunchucks!) at the front desk in case anyone's feeling insecure walking home alone at night.
This Cinema City release was very successful at the box office and was nominated for three Hong Kong Film Awards, winning for Best Editing (Kuo-Chung Chou) and Best Cinematography (Arthur Wong). The music from Violet Lam is also great. There was a U.S. VHS release on the Rainbow Audio & Visual label plus a DVD release from Mega Star / Tai Seng. Both have English subtitles and a few outtakes and bloopers at the very end.