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  On the Run Trust Me I'm A Professional Killer
Year: 1989
Director: Alfred Cheung
Stars: Yuen Biao, Patricia Ha, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Yuen Wah, Lo Lieh, Ida Chan Yuk-Lin, Lee Heung-Kam, Chan Cheuk-Yan, Phillip Ko Fei, Do Tak-Chi, Lam Lap-San, Bowie Lam, Cheung Choi-Mei, Peter Pau, Ngor Chi-Kwan, Poon Jan-Wai
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  10 (from 1 vote)
Review: Breaking away from his usual satirical comedies, writer-director Alfred Cheung delivered the dark, harrowing On the Run, which granted kung fu superstar Yuen Biao his similarly atypical chance to shine in a straight acting role. Hong Kong’s neon lights fade-in through the darkness. A woman sits alone in her scarlet-drenched bedroom, getting dressed for the night… and loading a Walther PPK pistol. She is Ah Chui (Patricia Ha), a professional assassin. Minutes later, she strides inside a crowded restaurant and coolly shoots Lo Huan (Ida Chan Yuk-Lin), a female narcotics officer, in the head. Lo Huan’s ex-husband, Hsiang Ming (Yuen Biao), a policeman working with the Internal Affairs Bureau, is devastated. Not just by his wife’s death, but because without her help he and his four-year old daughter Lin (Cheung Choi-Mei) cannot immigrate to Canada.

It is 1988 and Hong Kong’ handover to communist China is a few years away. Everybody is in a panic, planning their escape. That includes Superintendent Lu (Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin), chief of the Homicide Squad, who alongside his detectives (including veteran screen heavies Yuen Wah and Lo Lieh) has been dealing heroin in order to finance a better life. It was Lu who arranged the hit on Lo Huan, his onetime lover, who threatened to blow the whistle on his drug-running. Now these dirty cops are out to tie up all loose ends. First they murder Ah Chui’s handler, then they trail the lady assassin. Hsiang Ming catches up with her first, but with rogue cops out to silence him and his child for knowing too much, the resourceful and deadly Ah Chui proves their only hope for survival.

Few Hong Kong thrillers are as edgy and claustrophobic as On the Run. The sharp social commentary that runs through Alfred Cheung’s comedies is even more pronounced here. Haunted by the looming spectre of the handover in 1997, almost every character here is driven by desperation. Hsiang Ming is forced to admit: “Nothing matters as long as we can survive” as he is so frantic to find a way out, he allies himself with his wife’s killer. Lu ironically prides himself on being among the few cops unwilling to take a bribe. With a family to support overseas, he sees no reason why he can’t deal drugs on the side. Everybody else in Hong Kong spent the past few years getting rich - why can’t he? It is capitalism gone insane. “Life is cheap and earrings are expensive”, deadpans Ah Chui, who kills to furnish her sister with the good life she can never lead.

Yuen Biao gives his all and, save for one stunt, performs no martial arts whatsoever. Through most of the taut chase sequences orchestrated by Cheung, he takes a back seat while Patricia Ha’s ice-cool assassin wields her Walter PPK like a renaissance poet wields his quill pen. Her poker-faced anti-heroine with a Jackie-O hairdo, who never once misses a shot, is wholly unique. In what stands as the most sincere and heartfelt gesture in a jet-black story, she takes a handful of pennies as token payment for helping Hsiang Ming take revenge wryly claiming she only kills for money.

The film dares to visit horrors upon wholly innocent parties, from Hsiang Ming’s adorable daughter to a colleague who just happens to get in over his head, and memorably succumbs whilst rehearsing a plea for his life. Instead of climaxing with an outburst of balletically choreographed violence, the finale is ugly, clumsy and brutal with victims pathetically begging for their lives, insane with fear and rage as Hsiang Ming finds revenge far from palatable. Outstanding, neon-drenched cinematography by Peter Ngor Chi-Kwan (also an actor, he cameos here) is complemented by the moody, evocative score from Violet Lam Man-Yee. Alfred Cheung concludes the film on the frailest note of hope but Hong Kong censors imposed a would-be moralistic postscript that renders things even more downbeat. Bleak but utterly compelling, this remains an unsung classic.

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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