Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Diary of a Lady Killer (1969)


I tried to keep a diary for a while, way back when (men call them “journals,” damn it!).  It was, essentially, a five-subject notebook, not the sort of leather-bound, classy tomes you see in films like Ko Nakahira’s Diary of a Lady Killer (aka Lie Ren aka The Seductive Accounts of a Hunter aka My Amorousness Ruins My Life).  The thoughts I had at that time were what you would expect from a guy in his early twenties.  That is, a couple of interesting insights/ideas and then a whole lot of grousing, garbage, and emotionalizing.  Re-reading it, even then, it was painful, and I completely don’t regret shredding the whole damned thing.  Sometimes, one’s musings are better left in one’s head, to come and go like a prostitute’s trick (a crass analogy, yes, but apropos, nonetheless).  Sometimes, what you have on your mind is mundane and only interesting to you in the moment because you’re exorcising some tiresome demon.  Sometimes, keeping a diary will only help get you convicted of a crime, as is the case in this film. 

Lin Qiuhua, at the end of her rope (insert rimshot here), flings herself from her upper floor apartment to a spectacular dummy death on the pavement below.  Her sister, Lin Hongzhu (Ha Yee-Chau), suspects foul play, since Qiuhua was six months pregnant at the time of her death, and she had only slept with one stranger six months back.  Enter said stranger, Zhou Guoxiong (Han Chin), a womanizer engaged to Su Xiulan (Fang Ying), a society deb recently returned from Japan.  And then there’s Li Donghai (Wu Fung), an associate of Zhou’s who pines for Su just to complicate matters as Zhou’s former flings start turning up dead.

Diary of a Lady Killer is, first and foremost, Shaw Bros’ stab at a Hitchcockian thriller, and it has all the basic ingredients for this and then some.  There is a slow build of components (perhaps a bit too slow) that are revealed to drop another puzzle piece into place (in a puzzle that is fully assembled to start off).  There is a level of misogyny at play, and Nakahira delivers on some skin as Hitchcock wouldn’t be able (but really, really always wanted) to do until Frenzy in 1972.  There are shots laying out the machinations going on against Zhou, attempting to ratchet up tension.  Most importantly, there is the Wrong Man trope in which Hitchcock specialized.  Zhou is being set up for a fall, and it’s intriguing to watch the aligning of these elements against him (most clever is a bit where a straw broom drops onto his face, scratching his cheek like a woman’s fingernails would).  This being said, Zhou is also a patsy in the most reactive way possible.  These things happen to him, he knows they’re happening, but he does nothing to stop/prevent them, and he’s taken out of the narrative for much of the back third so Su can try to exonerate him.  This wouldn’t be so bad, in and of itself, if any attention had been paid to Su up to this point.  Instead, the film focuses primarily on Zhou and his horndogging escapades, none of which cast him in even a slightly sympathetic light.  Consequently, one couldn’t care less whether he’s railroaded by a false accusation and sent to prison.  I suppose in some way this is meant to be his penance for the way he treats women, but it’s difficult to give a shit whether or not this character is redeemed.  

Yes, as we all know, men are pigs, and this film does its level best to underline this while simultaneously playing to the men in the audience and tickle their libidos.  The opening credits are a series of women in colorfully stylish boudoir settings and various states of undress.  When these women aren’t posing seductively for the camera, the camera is focusing on different naked (sometimes even tastefully photographed) body parts of theirs (alongside frisky kittens; surely, not a metaphor for anything).  When Zhou can’t get Su to give it up for him (she’s waiting for marriage), he instantly dumps her, heads off to a bowling alley, and picks up the first single woman he sees there (totally not skanky).  These flings are manipulations for Zhou.  He claims to have physical needs that MUST be satiated.  Fair play, but he also treats these women like things because things are all they are to him (any port in a perpetually raging storm, so to speak).  Thus, he lies to all of them, giving each a different name or occupation.  When they say they would like to see him again, he agrees and then blows them off (at least once actually showing up to see if the woman is gullible enough to wait for him).  Zhou’s life, what we’re shown of it, is little more than a quest for power fueled by lust.  This could be interesting if any of this had consequences outside of how it fucks over Zhou’s life, but the women in these scenes are merely warm (soon to be cold) bodies, and the scenes don’t build as anything other than a daisy chain of conquests repeated over and over for the express purpose of trying to be a little sleazy.  The film simply spends far too much time detailing these filler encounters (skirting close to being porn without the porn).  While they are important to the main point of the movie (narratively and exploitatively), they swiftly become repetitive, and the viewer is left only with the desire for the plot to move the hell along, already. 

Zhou and Li, the two main males in the film are sociopaths.  They ritually display callous indifference for others throughout the film.  But they have an excuse, and her name is Su.  In Zhou’s diary, aside from depicting the various chicks he’s laid, he includes a statement intended specifically for his fiancée.  Basically, he says that, gosh, he really does love Su and wants to spend his life with her, but her reticence to bang him is what forced him to find other outlets for his concupiscence.  Sure, love is all about spirituality between two people, but it’s also about physical enjoyment, and clearly, the latter trumps the former.  It’s such a dickheaded rationalization for dickheaded behavior, but, naturally, Su buys it lock, stock, and barrel, because the film doesn’t actually give a shit about her.  Likewise, Li looms around Su constantly, desperate to pick up Zhou’s scraps and eager to profess his more earnest love for her.  It’s no surprise, then, when he just can’t help trying to take advantage of a drunken Su after Zhou has been taken out of the way.  Li and Zhou are two sides of the same shitty coin, the only difference between them being that Zhou will fuck anything that moves while waiting for Su to come around, while Li will kill (it’s insanely obvious who the bad guys in the film are from the outset) anything that Zhou fucks while waiting for Su to come around.  And that’s what Diary of a Lady Killer is: killing time waiting for some fucking satisfaction.

MVT:  The film’s premise is solid.  It’s just poorly handled.

Make or Break:  By Zhou’s second pickup, it becomes clear that the film is more interested in these fantasies than it is in what story it has.

Score:  3/10        

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