Zodiac Killers (1991)
Directed by: Ann Hui
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Fresh from writing Ann Hui's autobiographical drama Song of The Exile in 1990, Wu Nien-Jin was assigned the next few movies directed by Hui: the uneven American Grandson and the dud in the form of Zodiac Killers. To be fair, intelligence exist somewhere in there, waiting to break out, but it's beyond the capabilities of anyone involved in the production.
Taking place entirely in Tokyo, Hui's documentary camera captures the highs and lows of the city: the booming culture on the street and seedy underground culture for men. But the central idea of immigrants from Hong Kong fleeing, whether it's in the form of trying to make a success story out of yourself (Suen Paang's character, on the verge of joining the gangster syndicate), slacking off in Japan instead of in Hong Kong under parental guidance (Andy Lau's Ben, going to film courses but otherwise doing little else besides just existing) or seeking refuge in possible lover's arms (Cherie Chung's Meng, a student at day, hostess at night and one who's found a sponsor that would rather take advantage of her), is prime material for subtle drama that will hit you towards the end. When it does, meaning the film has now ended and said its things, Ann Hui has definitely not deserved to punch
The variation of her past pet themes on immigration (Andy Lau and Cherie Chung have both been part of that vision of Hui's in The Story of Woo Viet and Boat People), doesn't declare its existence by shouting loudly. Life in Tokyo just rolls on by, many characters just being blimps in the large consumer society and I for one certainly appreciate a low-key tone. Spoken softly, dialogue covering ill luck doesn't bode well for any character fate and it's clear we're heading towards something ill. Zodiac Killers doesn't look and feel like a love letter to its city or frankly, any city. It's cramped and goes mostly through the underbelly nature of the city, be it hostess clubs, porn movie shoots or the world of ruthless gangsters.
Continuing on, one of the actual interesting tangents is that of Andy Lau's naive and childish Ben breaking down when he can't find simple connection with a countrywoman of his, seeing Meng seek her stability in the Japanese but that's an interesting tangent in writing. Zodiac Killers begins its descent into trouble here as Hui checks off emotions and content from the script without so much as creating a flow for the audience to invest in. Now characters just are the way they are, they certainly feel it but we're not shaken bloody into believing with them. It's casual excursion into depth and Hui makes the cinematic games up on screen a smokescreen. We see through it.
Thankfully Ann Hui doesn't go into hiding via arthouse stylistic sensibilities such as quiet passages accompanied only by music, strange visuals or what have you. But with actors of fine range, especially Cherie Chung and Tok Chung-Wa (as a character searching for his girlfriend. The only light in the film, suggesting someone will be able to re-connect with China or Hong Kong), merely responding by being there, you get the idea that this downbeat production doesn't hold much nuggets of heartfelt or nihilistic substance. It tries but just like characters are conscious blimps in Hui's frame, Zodiac Killers becomes one such minor one in her filmography as well.
Megastar presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Mild to heavier print damage appear at points and the transfer never becomes particularly eye-popping. For intentional reasons originally probably and it's certainly sufficient therefore in areas of colour and sharpness.
Audio options are Cantonese/Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin/Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles feature little errors and offers up a clear translation. Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese are the other selections.
Extras include trailers for Zodiac Killers, Gunmen, The Occupant and The Tigers. The About The Film-section contains brief biographies/filmographies on Andy Lau and Cherie Chung, remaining cast & crew listing plus the written plot synopsis.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson