Sunday, 29 December 2013

Diary of a Serial Killer (1995) Otto Chan

It'd been a few years since last I watched any Category III pictures, though amongst my first loves in extreme cinema it isn't often nowadays that I get a fire in my belly for them. But watching Diary of a Serial Killer made me much want to return, an experience like slipping on your favourite dressing gown and slippers, sinking back in an armchair with a nice cuppa and some choccy biccies for dunking, smiling in a shifting shaft of warmth and light and dreaming of home. A second tier affair pulling the same tricks as several before it, it moves with nary a hiccup and plenty of fun, well anchored by its fine central performance. Kwok Pong Chan does fine work as crazy Lau Shau Biu, the serial killer of the title who brutally slays hookers in the belief that the more horrific their death the more thoroughly cleansed they will be of the karmic stain of selling themselves. I'm not sure that this is entirely how reincarnation works, but then I'm not a serial killer. Anyhow he does very well, beginning intense as he recounts his story in a cell, he proceeds to cover assorted psychopathic bases, from coolly hateful and vicious, to merrily sadistic to depravedly clownish and shades between. But he also convinces in his sense of righteousness and compulsive self rationalising, as well as actually harrowed by his urges and the constant threat of events to slide from control, and even keeps a handle on tonal shifts that require actual tenderness and human warmth. He may not have the presence of a Ben Ng or a Simon Yam, but is I think worthy here I think of the genre's greats. Of course a fine central performance would count for little without content to back it up, and Diary of a Serial Killer does pretty well on this front too. While actual gore is fairly limited the violence is mostly nastily sexual in nature with scenes that don't skimp much on nudity, and are agreeably twisted to boot (with one particular mean spirited mutilation standout in the final block). Happily these scenes are quite creepy also (as well as grim), taking place in an attic whose veils, bed and chair and plastic sheeting and mood lighting (permanent dusk or twilight with deep blues and reds) afford a curious ambience that has something of boudoir, dungeon and even shrine mingled. Killer's headspace given deft form, so killer, kills and killing floor align, retreat within that becomes progressively incongruous with the world without. Smart, provoking stuff, but not taken far enough, part of two twined tensions of the film that don't quite come off. Lau Shau Biu pulls against his outside world, and in so doing pulls against our outside world, the sheer fantasy that he could do what he does in the way that he does it without being caught earlier spiting those who would complain of unreality or plot holes. And his religious motives pull against his character, his real motives he prefers to avoid. So why not add more narrative meat, more psychology, have a film not just of yucks but fears of psyche and the world pulling apart in the denial of reality, barbed wire around the brute punch of straighter exploitation? The seeds are there in the structure, all the little things that aren't quite right but satisfy the audience, but the seeds don't grow. Still, this is pretty well paced and never dull, may not satisfy the more ravenous of filth hounds but most should have a pretty good time. So even if greatness is just peering in from the peripheries, this is still well worth a watch for genre fans. Go see...! 

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