Those with memories of Hong Kong Cinema from the late 1990’s will remember the Category III explosion with the likes of “Naked Killer” gaining a following and cementing Wong Jing as one of the premier filmmakers of the era. Today with the local industry becoming more and more sanitised, Fire Lee offers us a throwback to this period with his latest release “Husband Killers”.
A contract killer (Stephy Tang) and a cat burglar (Chrissie Chau) find out they share the same man and decide to kill each other. After discovering the man has another woman (Gaile Lok), the two of them team up to hunt him down along with his mistress. It turns out to be a plot orchestrated by their man to eliminate the three of them all at once. Infuriated, the trio swear to slay the cheater.
This brief synopsis presents similarities to the Cameron Diaz vehicle “The Other Woman” with the notion of sisterhood and taking revenge on the cheating male. Indeed in an era of the #Metoo movement on the surface, this would appear to be almost perfect timing for it’s release.
This however is not quite that movie. The film is a throwback to the Wong Jing era of throw everything against the screen and see what sticks style. Fire Lee in his last movie “Robbery” showed the ability to merge social satire within a framework of over the top violence. Here, from the opening sequence there is definitely a sense in that the material is not being taken even remotely seriously for one second.
Stephy Tang was so impressive in the recent “The Empty Hands” but has a less impressive role here, which essentially requires her to spend most of the movie in various leather outfits as the assassin Chanel. Chrissie Chau seems to be having the most fun of the trio as the mistress Dior. Their bickering makes up most of the first act and is, to be fair, pretty entertaining as they team up to find the third woman, all the while trying to find ways to kill the other. Gaile Lok gets one of the best scenes as the policewoman who, upon getting dumped via phone, proceeds to take out her anger in the most extreme way possible.
We never get to see the cheating antagonist fully, always having his face obscured, and in one sequence literally having his name appear on screen to cover it. None of the male characters are particularly likeable and indeed are a collection of the sleaziest, most loathsome ones you will ever find in an exploitation movie. When the architect of the plot is actually revealed, it makes sense as the men are clearly incapable of doing things for themselves.
Tonally the movie is a giant comic book. The violence is extreme but is so over the top that never feels real and is just part of what is overall a very fun movie. The message of sisterhood is present but again is never taken completely seriously as they spend as much time trying to kill each other as to find out why they are being played. The opening vignettes establish their skills and this is as far as the movie goes in character development, instead focusing on the journey rather than character. The throwbacks to the Category III era are there, with three glamorous ladies in various stages of undress during the movie, with the occasional slow-motion moment for good measure. However, Fire Lee is definitely winking at the audience during these scenes and at one point the movie stops at what appears to be the conclusion and instead restarts to give the audience the revenge payoff that has been expected from the opening scene. This results in the film feeling less exploitative than it could have been in lesser hands and allows the audience in on the joke, even breaking the 4th wall in the final scene.
This is very much the definition of a Marmite Movie as will alienate as many as it will entertain. Like Takashi Miike at his most playful, this is a movie that lives in its own world and is for me a refreshing throwback to another era as it offers something different to a modern audience.