Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#13: Breakout From Oppression

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 4: Side A

Breakout From Oppression, a re-titled edit of the 1984 Taiwanese film Exposed To Danger, opens on Fonda Chiu, hair blowing in the wind as she gazes contemplatively off the bow of a ferry. “Fonda Chiu is found guilty,” we hear a disembodied voice from the past say. “I convict her of murder. She is to be sentenced to twelve years in prison.” As the credits roll, Fonda (played by actress Luk Siu-Fan, but credited here as Fonda Lynn) flashes back to her time in prison: We see her being dragged to her cell by a group of guards, then being threatened and abused by her cellmates. She served eight years of her twelve year sentence and she is free now--or at least the funky, upbeat, early 80s synth score would have us believe.

In reality, Fonda Chiu has a hard time adjusting to life on the outside. A job has been procured for her at a newspaper, but her new coworkers are immediately suspicious of her. A shopkeeper accuses her of shoplifting. A hop in the shower brings on a traumatic memory of the time her cellmates stuck a deadly razor in a bar of soap in hopes of killing of her. And the landlord of her new apartment seems unduly interested in her past.

“Tell me,” he says in the stilted manner of poorly dubbed Asian imports. “Where did you come from? Where did you work before? Who is your family?”

“I have no family,” Fonda replies. She is reluctant--not surprisingly--to share anything about her past. No one, not even obligatory love interest Simon (Alan Tam), knows of her life as a convict. Or--cue ominous music--do they? Strange things begin happening to Fonda: A mysterious figure is seen prowling outside her apartment. The break-line on her bicycle is cut, leading to a painful crash on the nearby beach. A bar of soap--more of that treacherous Irish Spring--comes sliding across the floor out of nowhere and knocks Fonda off a ladder. A monkey jumps into her window and howls at her. Okay, not all of it makes sense. But clearly, someone has it in for Fonda.

Enter Sheena (Lona Chang), one of her coworkers at the paper. “You make me feel bad,” Sheena tells Fonda. She knows about Fonda’s past and--cue ominous music again--her father was murdered eight years ago. Clearly, she’s still on the revenge step of the grieving process. Not only that, but she lives in a big house with a mute, wheelchair bound grandmother she torments at every opportunity and a man chained to a post in the basement.

We see her eyes, filled with fury. Then, when Simon stops by her house, we see the fury melt away. She, too, is in love with Simon and she brings him up to her bedroom, which is cluttered with stuffed animals and pictures of Raggedy Anne and Andy. It’s the room of a little girl--a perfectly preserved artifact of Sheena’s past. Excitedly, she tells Simon she’s been dreaming of the day she would get to show him her room. Understandably freaked-out, Simon makes to go.

“I need you!” Sheena shrieks, clinging to his leg. Later, alone, Sheena is seen rocking in a chair, twisting the head off one of her dolls. “Simon,” she mutters to herself. “Why did you leave?” Later, she lures him back to her house, knocks him over the head and chains him up in the basement. It’s a great, unhinged performance in an otherwise by-the-numbers thriller.

The twists are predictable. We learn that Fonda was having an affair eight years ago with Steven, a married man. An argument ensued one night and Steven stormed out. Fonda went after him and found his body with a knife in it. She was blamed for the murder. Steven, naturally enough, was Sheena’s father. At the end of the film, Sheena and Fonda duke it out on the beach in a climax lifted from Friday the 13th, complete with gruesome beheading. And yet if you get past the genre conventions and the strange, dubbed, vaguely-Australian accent Sheena is saddled with, there‘s still that performance by Lona Chang. It’s bold and unique--a minor revelation by fifty-pack standards. 

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