Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Luo xie (1969)

... aka: 裸血
... aka: Law huet
... aka: Raw Passions

Directed by:
Chen Lo

A lot of movies, regardless of the era they were made in or country of origin, are now being retroactively referred to as giallo (most are really regular ole murder mysteries, suspense or crime films just like they made decades before giallo even existed), which usually has me defiantly raising my eyebrow as the stickler for defined terminology that I am. However, the opening sequence of this Hong Kong production from Shaw Brothers screams giallo, so I don't necessarily mind comparisons in this particular case.

Things open with quiet, picturesque panning shots of a still lake, starting high up in the pine trees. Only a single bird can be heard. As the shots progress, they start to move down, gradually closing in a small lakeside cabin. And then the camera looks up at the trees and starts doing 360 degree spins because it spells incoming trouble. We then get the closest look at the cabin yet and a scream is heard. Inside, a young woman is in the process of being attacked and we get lots of quick cuts of a gloved hand holding a shimmering knife. The woman is finally stabbed and a hand reaches down and rips off her necklace. Those few minutes all capture the essence of what a true giallo is in my opinion, with off-kilter camerawork and editing, the unknown black-gloved killer, the light-reflecting blade, the beautiful, sexualized female victim (this one has her shirt torn and bra exposed) and the immediate introduction of a mystery element the rest of the film will play off of.

We then meet our four principal characters; two married couples. We have the Tao's; Wai Kong (Hsieh Wang - THE WEB OF DEATH) and his wife Ai Jun (Hsiang-Chun Li), and the Lin's; newlyweds Sau Ming (Yuen Kao - THE PAINTED SKIN) and wife Man Ying (Ivy Ling Po). Out for an evening of drinks and some adult-oriented entertainment at a fancy nightclub, the couples watch sexy chanteuse Sa-Sa (Li Meng) sing and then strip down to a sequined bikini to perform a belly dance. Afterward, she goes right up to their table. The wives don't seem to like Sa-Sa, but Mr. Lin blushes at her presence and it's soon made clear that Mr. Tao is already very well acquainted with her when this cuts to the next scene and the two of them are in bed together. They've been carrying on a long-time affair, but now Sa-Sa wants more, especially since she's three months pregnant. Ultimatum time: Leave his wife to be with her, or give her 200,000 dollars and she'll go away quietly. Problem is, Mr. Tao's business has barely been staying afloat recently and he doesn't have that kind of money on hand.

It's not all smooth sailing with the newlyweds either. Prior to getting married, Sau Ming also had a brief fling with Sa-Sa. Now his suspicious spouse suspects that they may be continuing that affair. One day out of the blue, Sa-Sa calls Sau Ming and demands he come to her apartment. There, she unsuccessfully attempts to seduce him and then attempts to blackmail him. If he doesn't pay her 100,000, she'll tell the wife they're still seeing each other and do all she can to destroy his marriage. I tell ya, this lady is one hell of a schemer! An outraged Sau Ming storms off.

Rather hilariously, Sa-Sa secretly arranges to perform at Sau Ming's birthday party and shows up to serenade him with a love song! Later that night, Man Ying's suspicions are put to rest when he husband explains that nothing is going on between them, but she's then put in another awkward position after overhearing Sa-Sa and Mr. Tao discussing their affair. Soon after, Sa-Sa's corpse is discovered in the lake house by a young couple as this comes first circle to the opening scene. Since Sau Ming was spotted in the area fishing, he's hauled off to the police station, questioned and, because of his recent encounters with the victim, becomes the prime suspect. However, the necklace yanked off the corpse, perhaps in an effort to hide a connection to her, was one that Mr. Tao had given to her as a gift. Philandering husbands and betrayed housewives aren't the only possibilities here either...

To complicate matters further there are not one but two other blackmailers trying to capitalize on what's going on. The first is Sa-Sa's mentally unstable loser brother, Dai Kang (No Chai), who is first seen swinging by his sister's place trying to bum money, which is apparently a regular occurrence for him. Since she's dead now, how's he going to get by? Why trying to extort 50,000 from Sau Ming in order to "leave him alone," that's how! His plan doesn't quite pan out after Sau Ming beats him in a fight, so he later sneaks into their home and attacks Man Ying with a switchblade. Another mysterious man, Fei Ma (Feng Ku), is lurking around as well, making claims he has audio and photographic evidence about who the killer is. He too has an asking price: 100K, and he offers it to both the Tao and Lin couples.

This is a pretty standard mystery from a writing standpoint. I wish I could say I was taken by surprise or thrown for a loop by the red herrings at any point in this film, but I was able to accurately guess who the killer was in the first 20 minutes and nothing I saw after that ever made me second guess myself. In fact, what I saw afterward only made me even more certain I was correct. You can see it from a mile away based on what they choose to show and what they don't, and who they try to make you suspect and who they leave at the periphery.

Aside from that, this is well made and produced. The direction and acting are both fine, the camerawork and shot compositions are sharp and, best of all, the late 60s clothing, cars, interior décor and overall style are eye candy in the extreme. From a contemporary standpoint, much of the entertainment here actually comes from the art direction, with shots specifically framed to showcase loud wallpaper, swanky home furnishings and colored lights. Did people really decorate like this back then? If so, someone need to bring it back! There are also some nice exterior locations used and red-tinted and b/w flashbacks thrown in toward the end.

Since this was made during a transitional period in world cinema, while there's some nudity (all provided by Li Meng), it's of the very fleeting variety. You get lots of legs, bare backs and cleavage and a brief flash of an exposed nipple here and there. For a 1969 mainstream release, this was probably considered pretty risqué, but just a few years later, the sex and nudity would be much more prominent in these kinds of films, which probably rendered this comparatively tame affair pretty obsolete soon after it was made.

The two original songs on the BMI-issued soundtrack album - "The Night Before" and "Mad About You" - are performed by Mona Fong, who was a top recording artist at the time. Less than a decade after this was made, Fong would become a regular producer and production manager for Shaw and racked up well over 150 credits with them, including working on many of their major cult horror releases, like BLACK MAGIC (1975), BEWITCHED (1981), HUMAN LANTERNS (1982), THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983) and SEEDING OF A GHOST (1983).

Understandably, the demand for this particular title hasn't been quite as high as many others from the extensive Shaw catalogue. There was a customary DVD release from Celestial in 2005 (with English subtitles), but it came and went and not many were particularly interested. While this is perfectly fine to sit through once, it's still just kind of mid / forgettable in the grand scheme of things.

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