Monday, November 14, 2016

Xin tiao yi bai (1987)

... aka: Heartbeat 100
... aka: Heartbeat One Hundred
... aka: Sam tiu yat baak

Directed by:
Kent Cheng
Kin Lo

After leaving a nightclub in On Lok (Happy) Village, a couple who duck into an old building are stabbed to death while having sex and their bodies are then dumped into the Tai Shek Bay. The dead male was involved in a robbery where 15 million dollars worth of cash, antiques and other valuables were stolen. Five days after police discover the bodies and put up 50,000 dollars in reward money for information leading to the whereabouts of the other robbers / missing money, a small group of friends decide to head out to the same bay for a two month stay. That's not very good timing, but Maggie (Maggie Cheung), a young writer who's working on a TV detective drama, could use a little inspiration. Her somewhat snobby sister Chu Chu (Bonnie Law) is kind of there like it or not. And that's a big not on the presence of Weeny Eyes (Fong Liu), a persistent guy who's been after Chu Chu since they were both eight years old and seemingly won't take no for an answer. As the gang head down a narrow mountain road (the girls in a car and Weeny on a three wheeler), a motorcycle comes barreling down on them. After a minor crash, driver To Nam (Mark Cheng), has a flat tire and the girls agree to give him a lift.

Upon arrival in the village, the locals aren't very friendly and their rental home is a filthy, rat-infested disaster so they set about trying to whip it into habitable condition. Their attempt at hiring a maid (Mama Hung) backfires when she refuses to enter their home, claiming it's haunted. She does however invite them to her home so she can tell them about what happened there years earlier, which involved a love triangle, a suicide and a restless ghost haunting the home. Meanwhile, To Nam, who turns out to be a police inspector visiting the village to investigate the murders, meets up with local law enforcement, who are in the middle of trying to beat a disobedient dog to death with a log (!) when he walks in. Arrogant yet seemingly inept police sergeant Kwan Kao (Lam Chung) informs him that he's been there for decades and the tiny village hadn't had any problems until recently. Kind of hard to believe once we see who else is living there!

For starters, there's the mentally retarded and snake-obsessed Pink Panther (Ching Wong), who Chu Chu catches peeping in the window while she's in the bathtub. And then there's his father Yam (Wung Foo), who hears what his son's been up to, beats him over the back with a 2x4 and then kicks him to the ground. And trust me, it's probably even more difficult to type out scenarios like “Yam beats Pink Panther with a 2x4 after he peeps on Chu Chu” with a straight face than it is reading it. Mrs. Tse (Lisa Chiao Chiao), the mother of suspected robber Hoi (Fui-On Shing), claims she hasn't seen her son in a decade and appears to be out of her mind as well. There's also a gang of young thugs dressed in black who continue to harass the new arrivals even after To Nam kung fu's their asses and forces them to apologize.

As it turns out, numerous people in the village are not who they appear to be and a series of gory axe murders soon begins. Late one night, Maggie hears commotion coming from the home next door and sees a murder Rear Window-style. Because she tagged a particular person as the victim and that person turns out to still be alive after the cops look into it, she loses the support of the local police and decides to investigate matters on her own against the urging of To Nam. This ends up getting a dog killed and her sister and their friend kidnapped and put in a death trap that threatens to impale them both on spikes. But that's only the tip of the iceberg as far as the problems they'll face.

Considering all of the elements at play here, this combination of drama, comedy, romance, mystery and horror should have been a chaotic mess... and yet it's not. A very likable cast helps a lot, but so does the sheer unpredictability of it all. You never know what you're going to get from one scene to the next. The blossoming romance between the detective and the writer (done with some genuine charm) or a body chopped in two with a shovel? A surprising bit of humanity shown the usually one dimensional "annoying" character or a shootout at a fireworks festival? They also throw in a car chase, explosions, a snake attack, a decapitation, sword fights, karate fights, gore, a dash of nudity, some Nancy Drew-style sleuthing, a bizarre ceiling fan attack, corpses hidden in plaster sculptures, a sense of humor that's more character-driven and less slapstick than most other HK films from this same time frame and much, much more. There's never a dull moment and the directors are geniuses as far as I'm concerned for making this run as smoothly as it does, tying everything together by the end and for making a film that's quirky and offbeat yet still easily digestible at the same time. I was thoroughly impressed.

This one's from Cinema City & Films Company (later called just Cinema City Company) and has drifted into obscurity over the years thanks to never being given a DVD release. That's somewhat surprising considering CCC is the same company behind the easy-to-find hit A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). There was a VHS release from Rainbow Audio & Visual out of San Francisco, which had English subtitles. The VCD release from Mega Star has no English option. DVDs several sites currently hawk are actually DVD-Rs that just use the video print.

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