Friday, April 1, 2022

Xue Call ji (1988)

... aka: 血CALL機
... aka: 賭命23
... aka: Bloodbath 23
... aka: Blood Call
... aka: Life Gamble 23

Directed by:
Oli Nicole (probable alias)
Lu Tung (uncredited)

Figured I'd give this long-forgotten Hong Kong film a go since various websites can't even determine what genre it is (I've seen it listed as crime, horror, thriller, comedy, drama AND action) and there's been very little discussion about it anywhere online. I regretted that decision almost immediately. The opening twenty minutes were so sloppy, disjointed, confusing and incoherent I just wanted to hit stop right then and there. Yet I stuck this one out and was rewarded with... Well, not much actually. It just seemed to get worse the longer it went on! The mixed genre classification is now understandable since this doesn't really fit into just one or two molds, much to this particular film's detriment.

An opening title card informs us that there's a dangerous escaped convict on the loose, which is followed by a radio news broadcast relaying the same exact information the title card just showed us seconds earlier, only really adding that the psycho was last seen wearing a "khaki safari suit" (!?) Next up are scenes from an aerobics class (well, OK, it's not ALL bad), featuring a really bad pop song complete with annoying "slick" music video-style edits. One of the aerobics ladies, Anna Mok (Anna Kamiyama), is disrupted mid-routine when a threatening telephone call from a man who's recently been stalking her miraculously broadcasts over a speaker to the entire class. Anna attempts to call the police multiple times but they completely ignore her as she whines for help ("He already called 13 times!"). That's followed by a botched nightmare sequence where she hops in the shower and some man opens the door and she screams. Poor Anna can't even get any sleep as the nut job calls her incessantly at home even in the middle of the night. Because of all this, Anna has a phobia of pagers (?!)

We next meet a couple of Anna's friends, Maria (Maria "Christina" / Tung Ling) and Cindy (Woon-Jing Shin). Cindy is the studious one who's just returned back to Hong Kong from studying in the U. S. and Maria is the immature and irresponsible one who smokes pot. The subtitles are so bad it was difficult to gauge the relationships of these women but I believe Maria and Cindy are supposed to be sisters, or all three ladies are sisters.

Things are somehow even more confusing when it comes to the male characters. There's Hsiung (Siu Chung Mok), who is either an amateur detective or an ex-con who specializes in converting plastic toy guns into lethal firearms (?) Michael (Michael Chow) is Anna's former lover who now can't take no for an answer, is stalking her and (I think) plotting to kill her. There's Chung (Eddy Ko), the escaped convict from the news broadcasts, who's also a sex pervert, stalker (he appears to be after a valuable gun that Hsiung possesses), rapist and serial killer. And then there's Hsiung's brother Charlie (played by Charlie Cho in his usual "comic" role); a Royal H.K. police inspector and yet another pervert who attempts to use his position to persuade Chung's sister (Kwai-Chi Tan) to sleep with him.

It's a frustrating, headache-inducing mess trying to keep tabs on all these people, who they are and how they are all connected, especially since the film does an incredibly poor job setting these characters up in the first place. I'm not even sure * I * got it right despite taking notes the whole time and couldn't even tell if this was mostly the fault of the subtitles or mostly the fault of the filmmakers, though I suspect both can be blamed.

Desperate to get away from the city and hide out (something even her stalker ex-boyfriend recommends she do!), Anna goes to an employment agency and has them set her up on a nanny assignment. She's sent to the countryside to watch over a lonely, motherless, neglected little boy named Hsiao Chieh, who lives with his father in a large home near the beach. The father, a recently-out-of-the-closet gay man complete with stereotypical limp wrists, is planning on leaving the country "for one day" to stay with his Filipino boyfriend and instructs Anna to make sure his son goes to school and leaves it at that. Otherwise she has free reign over use of the home, car and everything else. Seeing how the father simply never returns, we can assume this was all a set-up to enable him to just abandon his child.

Both Hsiung and Chung travel to same small town and start terrorizing Anna. Hsiung befriends Hsiao Chieh, takes him to an arcade, starts claiming to be a relative of the family and moves into the home, where he annoys the hell out of Anna by spraying her with a fire extinguisher, playing cruel pranks on her, saying cruel things to her, eating all of her food, playing his music loud and inviting the annoying Charlie over to visit. Charlie in turn brings Chung's sister there and she wastes no time calling up Chung and giving him the address. Lots of weird, nonsensical stuff happens (the incoherence is only exacerbated since much of it takes place in the pitch dark) and eventually a love-hate relationship forms between Anna and Hsiung.

A man is suffocated with a plastic bag in front of his four-year-old son, a corpse the little boy sees floating in the ocean disappears without a trace, photos of victims are left at the home, women are stripped naked, raped and / or killed, there are repeat shots of clothes being thrown on the floor and lots of oversized 80s hoop earrings. During one (admittedly clever) nightmare sequence, our heroine has scenes from her former failed relationship projected on a movie theater screen. The finale is a nighttime home invasion with noir lighting attempts, with Bolo Yeung making a brief appearance as a thug who tries to light up Anna's crotch with a welding torch (!) and is eventually electrocuted by a booby trapped toilet (?) A "message" behind the nonsense we've just suffered through is shoehorned in at the very end followed by repeat clips of footage we've already watched.

Most interestingly, this film has an obsession with pagers, which includes using them to kill / electrocute people on multiple occasions. I don't know if it was a then-new technology they were hoping to exploit or if the filmmakers were wanting to highlight the pitfalls of one being accessible at all hours of the day and night by others; a problem that has only increased tenfold since the internet and cell phones took over all of our lives. It's difficult to tell just what's going on here or what the film's intentions are.

The choppy editing is terrible and this features a few other hallmarks of a troubled production that had to be stitched together from fragments of the original shoot, including inept use of slow motion, freeze frames and multi-character voice-overs trying to explain what's going on yet only making things even more confusing. Even though this was a chore for this particular viewer to get through, I suppose it may appeal to those who like pseudo-surreal, nonsensical rubbish they can pick their brains trying to assign some kind of meaning to.

I'm also not entirely sure just who directed this film. The opening credits list one "Oli Nicole," whose name can also be found multiple times in the end credits for providing oil paintings and writing lyrics to some of the songs. However, both the HK Movie Database and HK Cinemagic list the director / writer / producer as Lu Tung (who otherwise worked mostly as a writer), so there's the definite possibility that "Oli Nicole" is just a pseudonym he's using. I'm not aware of any restored versions of this film being available and it was last released here in the U.S. on VHS by both Tai Seng and Rainbow Audio & Video. There was also a laserdisc release.

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