Following his impressive debut feature in The Sword <名劍> in 1980, Patrick Tam shifted gear from wuxia genre to a more contemporary approach in Love Massacre <愛殺> a year later.
The story, written by Joyce Chan Wan-Man is simple enough: Brigitte Lin plays Ivy, a San Francisco-based co-ed who ends up falling in love with her estranged roommate’s (Tina Lau Tin-Lan’s Joy) brother, Chu Chung (Chang Kuo-Chu). Following the suicide of Joy, Chu Chung becomes mentally unstable and begins stalking Ivy like a madman.
If you are looking for solid storytelling, you won’t find that much in Love Massacre <愛殺>. Instead, Tam is rather interested in blending and exploiting different genres — a psychodrama heavily influenced by European arthouse cinema and American psychological-thriller undertone — that looks more aesthetically driven than something thematically compelling.
With the help of cinematographer Brian Lai and art director William Chang, Love Massacre <愛殺> is more like a blend of a mood piece and stylistic genre exercise. And for that alone, Tam largely succeeds in offering a unique look at a thriller genre rarely seen in Hong Kong cinema at the time. Even by today’s standard, it’s hard to find this kind of genre cinema in Hong Kong as bold and experimental as Love Massacre <愛殺>.
Despite taking place in San Francisco, the movie is strangely yet fascinatingly depicted in a way where the City by the Bay exists in a self-contained, alternate world. Tam also favours lots of primary colour including white, red and blue — particularly the actors’ choice of clothing — which gives the movie a more surrealistic quality.
Brigitte Lin is alluring enough just for her appearance alone. Tam and Brian Lai know well how to fixate on this legendary Taiwanese beauty with a painterly eye, regardless of the way she pulls off in a white or a red dress. This is one of those rare cases where a mere appearance manages to offset a stilted acting performance, as in the case of Brigitte Lin’s role in this movie. Chang Kuo-Chu made quite an impression as a deranged stalker, while Charlie Chin sadly doesn’t get to do much as Ivy’s best friend, Louie.
But Tam isn’t entirely successful when comes to the thriller territory, particularly during the second half. The elaborate scene where Chu Chung starts killing all of Ivy’s roommates inside the apartment block feels lengthy and even largely underwhelming.
Several flaws aside, Love Massacre <愛殺> remains an intriguing piece of Hong Kong cinema worth watching at least once.