Investigating the death of a schoolgirl who jumped off a tall building, handsome cop Alan Kwok (David Wu Dai-Wai) is reluctantly partnered with his ex-girlfriend, Laura (Michelle Reis). What at first seems like a clear case of suicide comes into question when a teenage witness claims she saw a mysterious old woman menacing the victim. Alan and Laura follow a trail of clues that lead them to Pierre (Dayo Wong), an ex-cop now imprisoned in an insane asylum. He tells them about his last case involving Aunt Lung (Helena Law Lan), a sinister old crone who is supposedly using a black magic tome called “Complete Suicide Handbook” to compel people across Hong Kong to kill themselves.
Around the mid-to-late Nineties a number of Hong Kong films of varying genres dealt with anxieties surrounding the then British colony's imminent handover to mainland China, whether overtly as with Kirk Wong's satirical cop thriller Rock and Roll Cop (1994) or allegorically as was the case in Tsui Hark's searing fairytale Green Snake (1993). Despite making less of an impact than those big budget releases, July 13th was widely perceived as tackling the same themes given the philosophy motivating many of Aunt Lung's victims is that when hope is lost and seemingly no-one cares about your plight, suicide seems the only option. Instead of the usual rampaging ghosts and monsters the plot hinges on an embittered old woman who seems to believe Hong Kong residents have brought disaster on themselves through their selfish, materialistic ways. The film repeatedly highlights uncaring parents, indifferent bureaucrats and other money-mad locals with only the cop heroes (at one point carefully positioned beside the British flag) sympathetic to the suffering of the young, the disenfranchised and the poor.
Opening with an audacious P.O.V shot following a schoolgirl as she slowly ascends to the top of a tall building then plummets to her death, the film's stylish cinematography reflects an era when even Z-grade exploitation quickies boasted glossy visuals. With the budget too low to include the usual special effects set-pieces the film relies entirely on its impressive serpentine camerawork and evocative cinematography to weave a suitably ominous atmosphere of supernatural dread. As an actor Wellson Chin Sing-Wai appeared in several seminal kung fu films from actor-director Sammo Hung before making his mark as a director with Inspector Wears Skirts (1988), the first in a popular series of female-driven action comedies produced and choreographed by Jackie Chan. He dabbled in other genres but eventually settled into a run of quirky, low-budget horror movies including Ghostly Vixen (1990), Thou Shalt Not Swear (1993), The Third Full Moon (1994), The Day That Doesn't Exist (1995), The Era of Vampires (2002) and his most acclaimed effort in the genre, the deceptively silly-named Tamagotchi (1997).
While Chin Sing-Wai continued to improve as a horror filmmaker here his undeniable style and imagination is counterbalanced by a few clumsily staged scares and a streak of slapstick comedy that proves hit and miss. Much of the latter centres around the madcap antics of Dayo Wong's mental patient who literally bounces off the walls. Nevertheless the film deserves praise for bravely delving into a metaphysical debate and climaxes with a suspenseful sequence with the heroes struggling to prevent one of their number jumping off a bridge whilst fending off the crazy knife-wielding old bat. Following an interesting twist the coda manages to be both unsettling and moving with a heartening message about learning to value life no matter how brief or hard it might be.