What's new again: Ann Hui's Zodiac Killers | Bleader

What's new again: Ann Hui's Zodiac Killers

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Andy Lau (left) goes flower shopping in Tokyo.
  • Andy Lau (left) goes flower shopping in Tokyo.
If you haven’t made it to River East to see Ann Hui’s A Simple Life (a movie I can’t stop writing about), you don’t have much time left: it ends its run tomorrow afternoon. On the bright side, Hui’s directed about two dozen other features, and quite a few are available for rental. The other day I found that Facets Multimedia had a VHS copy of her Zodiac Killers, a 1991 feature cowritten by Nien-Jen Wu, a major figure of the Taiwanese New Wave who also wrote for Edward Yang (That Day, On the Beach) and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (A City of Sadness, The Puppet Master). Like Simple Life, this stars Andy Lau at his most introverted and contains numerous insider references to Hong Kong filmmaking. The obvious comparisons pretty much end there, as Zodiac is a melodramatic action movie in the John Woo fashion where Simple Life is a quiet human drama. Yet the films complement each other nicely when seen in tandem.

In Zodiac, Lau plays a Hong Kong native going to film school in Tokyo. He rarely attends classes, however, spending his time instead leading city tours for Cantonese-speaking tourists and taking in the nightlife. Through a series of circumstances I didn’t always understand (Hong Kong cinema is not the most cogent in the world), Lau gets on the bad side of a Chinese crime syndicate and has to protect a beautiful woman (Cherie Chung, a woman once described as Hong Kong’s Marilyn Monroe) they’ve marked for death. As an action movie, this is just fine, though hardly on par with the best of Woo, Tsui Hark, or King Hu (with whom Hui apprenticed, incidentally). But as a portrait of cultural displacement, this is evocative and sometimes very moving. It’s also interesting to see Tokyo depicted by an outsider who isn’t a Westerner: Hui’s sense of alienation is of a different and generally subtler variety than, say, Sofia Coppola’s.

I’ve seen only a handful of Hui’s films, but alienation has been a constant factor in those works. Born to a Chinese father and Japanese mother, Hui is not heir to a single cultural tradition (and to complicate matters further, she attended film school in London). Her movies convey the sense that she’s looking in on her subjects from behind some divide. That’s a good position for considering the lives of lonely people, as A Simple Life powerfully demonstrates.

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