Love Massacre is a bizarre psycho-drama that was part of the glorious Hong Kong New Wave that lasted from about 1978 to 1982. This was the era when several Hong Kong directors who had studied film overseas returned to their homeland and got to work making genre films imbued with a more European arthouse sensibility.
Genres were mixed and turned upon their head in a way that has rarely been seen in Hong Kong filmmaking before or since, and the weirdly impenetrable localised humour was mostly absent. This is a blessing for fans of these movies from the West who will just never understand why a cross-eyed character with a huge mole is present in every kung fu film made in the 1970s.
I’m going to be looking at a number of these New Wave films, as they seem somewhat underrepresented online and in print, despite a number of them being absolute grade-A fucking masterpieces. My favourite kind of movie has always mashed up genre elements with an off-kilter auteurist vibe, whether it be Jess Franco or Jean Rollin or David Lynch. The directors of the Hong Kong New Wave (from here on referred to as the HKNW) excelled at this, with even their kung-fu and triad gangster movies being pitch black and often insanely violent.
Which brings us to Love Massacre, Patrick Tam’s weirdo Godard/Hitchcock hybrid. Tam’s first film was a stunning existentialist swordplay masterpiece called The Sword, and he followed it up with Love Massacre, a stalker movie set in San Francisco. When a young woman kills herself due to unrequited love, her estranged brother slowly unravels and begins to stalk his sister’s friends, culminating in a deadly game of cat and mouse in an apartment block.
At least I think that’s what it’s about, it was hard to get specifics due to the scratchy old VHS print I watched. You see, the subtitles are white, which isn’t in itself a problem. No, the problem is that everyone wears white, often obscuring the subtitles.
Get a load of this –
Oh, you can read that? Okay then, how about this –
Told you so.
It’s not a deal breaker, as the plot is simple enough to follow and anyway who cares about the damn plot when a film looks as good as this, faded colours and VHS wear and tear notwithstanding?
The whole film is shot like an unholy combination of Godard and Hitchcock, and the art director is William Chang, who would go on to be production designer on every one of Wong Kar-Wai’s movies. He gives Love Massacre an old fashioned look, the clothing and decor more befitting the 1960s than the 1980s. Man, I’d love to see a remastered print of this film!
It’s so slow and measured that in many ways it doesn’t feel like a Hong Kong movie at all, though there are the occasional giveaways, in particular, the ear-splitting synthesised pan-pipes that play over the opening credits and the presence of the extraordinary Brigitte Lin, The Bride With White Hair herself.
It’s a hard film to love but an easy one to appreciate and enjoy. Slasher fans will certainly come away disappointed – the first half is a talky drama, full of meaningful glances and pregnant pauses, while the second half, the ‘horror’ part, tends to underplay the excitement and thrills that should ensue.
But that’s common with the HKNW. These were filmmakers who refused to play it safe, and offered films that challenged the viewer. Love Massacre is never fun, but what did you expect from a film with that title? However, if you like films that take themselves and their subject matter seriously, while still throwing in gratuitous stabbings and beautiful people wandering through art galleries, then you’ve just hit the jackpot.
And believe me, this is nowhere near the best the New Wave has to offer.