A/B side VIBES. Greatest Hits from ‘80s & ‘90s
Tribute to Po-Chih Leong
生死線 (Sang sei sin)
Hong Kong, 1985, 89’, Cantonese
Directed by: Po-Chih Leong
Screenplay: D&B Creative Team (Shu Kei, John Chan Koon-Chung)
Martial Arts Directors: Ng Min-Kan, Yuen Wah
Photography (color): Poon Hang-Sang
Editing: Peter Cheung Yiu-Chung
Art Direction: Kenneth Yee Chung-Man
Music: Law Dik
Theme Song Composer: Violet Lam Man-Yee
Singer: Deanie Ip Tak-Han
Presenter: Dickson Poon Dik-Sang
Executive Producer: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Producer: Deanie Ip
Cast: John Sham Kin-Fun (Teacher Cheung), Ronald Wong Ban (Ronald), Timothy Zao (Timothy), Che Ching-Yuen (Piggy), Amy Kwok Oi-Ming (Cindy), Peter Chan Lung (Tai Fat), Chan Ging (Yee Fat), Billy Ching Sau-Yat (Sam Fat), Chan Lap-Ban (Mother)
Date of First Release in Territory (Hong Kong): November 10th, 1985
Teacher Cheung takes his students on a two-night excursion to a remote rural island believing that it is uninhabited. But soon after landing, the group encounters one of the island’s inhabitants who runs the local grocery store. He is one of three brothers of varying degrees of derangement who have just buried their mother and who are desperate to get their youngest and most disturbed brother married in order to produce offspring and fulfil their mother’s dying wish. Having discovered that a mainland Chinese refugee whom they have captured is not a virgin and therefore unqualified for marriage, the brothers target one of the young students Phyllis as a potential bride. From that point on, the struggle between the three brothers, and Cheung and his students, spirals into a deadly comedy of terrors between good and evil.
Much of the strength of The Island lies in its telling – a coming of age terror for the group of innocent students and their equally naïve teacher who is caught up in his own comfortable world. But as their fractious encounters with the dangerously obsessed brothers increase, so too does Leong ramp up the scale of the attacks, calibrating each move carefully to reach over-the-top moments that characterize Hong Kong films of the era.
Teacher Cheung comes from a tradition of the weakling intellectual who is thrown unwittingly into a struggle with a physically superior opponent, perhaps epitomized best by Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs; while the brothers are clearly descended from the type of backwoods sadists found in Deliverance. Leong once again shows his skill at synthesizing various influences into a uniquely crazy terror comedy in Hong Kong style.
A look at the context of the film also reveals a richer seam of discussion that may not be so evident on the surface. Made in 1984 during the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments on the future of Hong Kong (news of which plays while Teacher Cheung packs for the trip) the film tries to codify a moment in time when the anxiety was not over Hong Kong’s fate, which was almost certainly sealed, but how to get there. The importance of the process as Teacher Cheung tries to negotiate with the brothers can be seen through this lens. The presence of a humiliated and generally silent mainland Chinese refugee who has been caught by the deranged brothers for marriage and sexual purposes, adds further ambiguity to the situation.
Perhaps more enduring as a motif is the undercurrent in the script of a class conflict between the educated urbanites and the rural backwoodsmen. The depiction of both sides is biting – the students cavort foolishly in the face of danger and cry out in pain from small accidental injuries as a prelude to the more serious violence that awaits. The three brothers are violent, menacing and manipulative even in their most lunatic state. Their obsession with their dead mother is not only Oedipal but also smacks of matriarch as dominatrix.
In keeping with its disturbed and disturbing characters, no one comes out of this adventure shining and heroic. Illusions are shattered, friends and romances evaporate. Individual futures are uncertain in this most uncertain of times in Hong Kong’s history.
FILMOGRAPHY: vedi / see Hong Kong 1941