Sunday, December 18, 2022

Jing hun ji (1989)

... aka: 驚魂記
... aka: 蜘蛛に抱かれた女
... aka: 경천대모살
... aka: Betrayal
... aka: Deception
... aka: Psycho
... aka: Web of Deception
... aka: Woman with a Spider

Directed by:
David Chung

Twists and turns galore in this sleek, stylish thriller that gets major mileage from the casting of three of the best Hong Kong / Taiwanese actresses of their day in major roles. Jane Lam (Brigitte Lin) seems to have it all. She's a successful, wealthy, high-powered lawyer who's co-partner of her own firm. She wears the best clothes, drives the best cars and lives in a beautiful mansion. And she's planning on soon emigrating to Canada to continue her prosperous career over there. However, not everything is as it seems. Jane is actually having some financial issues and is being forced to relocate because rivalry is increasing and she's unable to keep up with competition. She also broke the law back in her early days and, with help from her unscrupulous, money-hungry broker Mimi Chow (Elizabeth Lee), stole some money. Somehow someone has found out about it and Jane receives an anonymous blackmail letter, made from magazine clippings, demanding she fork over a million dollars or else she'll be exposed. That in turn will ruin her reputation, destroy her career and and spoil her chances of traveling abroad. The extortion attempt is also having a detrimental effect on her job performance. She procrastinates on assignments, fumbles accounts and her clients are starting to walk. It's time to investigate matters if she's ever going to save herself.

Jane becomes suspicious of all those in her inner circle, but most especially those she works closest with, and none of those are any closer than her workaholic personal assistant, May (Pauline Wong Siu-Fung). Though May has been an excellent assistant, skilled and highly-efficient at her job, Jane has decided to pass her over for promotions and opted to take the less-experienced though more formally educated Fanny (Hau-Ling Chan) along to Canada with her instead. In a last ditch effort to get the blackmail money together so she can make a clean escape, Jane has Mimi sell all of her stocks and bring over a million dollars in cash to her home.

It turns out that Jane's initial suspicions about May were justified. She is the one blackmailing her, though she's not exactly a monster either. She's merely conflicted, hurt and bitter about working her ass off for someone for years as a dedicated assistant only to get shafted and be out of a job at the end of the day. May's good-natured best friend and roommate, Queenie (Joey Wong), has problems of her own and is soon in need of some fast cash herself. Her unhinged identical twin sister Cat (also Wong) has just been released from prison but some of the lowlifes she used to work for know she's out and send a thuggish loan shark (Chi-Fai Chan) out looking for her. Cat owes them 300,00 dollars. It's either pay up, be forced to go back to work smuggling drugs or end up dead.

Seeing how May knows Jane has the cash hidden in her home in a cabinet, she clues Queenie in on how she can get her hands on it. Jane is scheduled to attend a party that night, so May will leave the door to Jane's basement unlocked. That way May can sneak in, get the money and make a clean, quick escape. Unbeknownst to the scheming ladies, but Jane has moved the money to another hiding spot and she's overslept and running late for the party when Queenie arrives. The two ladies get into a struggle and Queenie is killed when she's stabbed with a letter opener and then falls onto an axe blade. Not knowing who the intruder is or whether or not she's dead, Jane flees upstairs and locks herself in her bedroom. Fearing her thievery will be exposed if the cops become involved now makes things a tad complicated.

Having secretly trailed her sister there, Cat manages to hide her sister's body in a armoire in the basement and sneaks out before being noticed. Vowing revenge, she cuts her long hair and impersonates her sister; posing as a masseuse to regain entry into Jane's home. From there on out this takes on the shape of a home invasion thriller, with our lead females constantly trying to hide money, the corpse and their true intentions as the corrupt broker, some home security installers and Jane's police inspector pseudo-boyfriend, Henry Li (Waise Lee), pay sporadic visits.

Boasting an astonishingly labyrinthine plot, where the characters are in a constant state of betraying or being betrayed, pretending to be people they're not, switching allegiances, having last-second changes of hearts and indulging in all kinds of deceitful behavior, it's kind of amazing just how well this thing manages to hold together. There's just something wonderfully invigorating about all of the split second close calls, cat and mouse games, carefully calculated dialogue exchanges and sometimes ridiculous yet usually unexpected plot contrivances that start to accumulate and keep the film in a constant state of momentum. 

So let this be a lesson to future filmmakers: If you're going to make a twist-filled suspense film full of unexpected detours, you may as well go all in on it. Director Chung does precisely that, does it with style and, most impressively, does it primarily within the confines of a single home. Credit also goes to Fa Lui for the smart script, though he strangely never wrote another film after this one. And, of course, this wouldn't work nearly as well with lesser talents in the lead roles and the interplay between the three fabulous stars is sharp and entertaining, with each given a chance to shine both together and individually. The icing on the cake is the super-stylized visual presentation, with lots of neo-noir touches, great use of backlighting and handsome, super-saturated blue hues used during the night scenes.

This was the sixth and final film as director for Chung, though he'd continue on until the mid-90s as a director of photography. Despite seven total nominations (and two wins) for his cinematography from the Hong King Film Awards, and four nominations (two wins) from the Golden Horse Film Festival, in just a decade's time, he abruptly retired from film altogether in 1995. Hark Tsui, the same year he worked on John Woo's The Killer and just a few years before he made Once Upon a Time in China, was the producer.

There was a limited U. S. theatrical release from Fox Lorber in 1989 followed by an English-subtitled VHS release from Rainbow Audio & Video. Later DVD releases from companies like Deltamac / Fortune Star, YesAsia and others also have English subs. Considering the easy availability of the film and the fact it has so few votes on movie websites, Deception appears to have mostly been forgotten over the years.

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