Firstly, David Ren’s oddly monikered film is not by any stretch of the imagination a horror flick. This is an almost entirely straight pastiche of a forties noir murder mystery, albeit with significantly more kung fu action and gratuitous nudity.
It opens on a dark murderous night, a young girl shot dead in her apartment with only her driver come bodyguard Jake (Jason Yee) interested in solving the case. The girl in question is Sandy (Samantha Streets), an escort with obligatory heart of gold whose underage runaway storyline is awkwardly alluded to in one of many many flashbacks. These consist almost entirely of Jake’s memories of Sandy, usually turning up as he stares menacingly at a clue he’s acquired with some impressive but unlikely martial artistry.
This is one of the films greatest flaws, the whole premise is that Jake’s relationship with Sandy drives him to give up his life in pursuit of her killer but there is no connection when the two are on screen. Yee plays his role with a cold distance from everyone, and Streets, playing a girl of sixteen, seems too calm and sweet for her past to allow.
Jake’s first point of investigation is through his boss, strip club owner and pimp Simon (Ron Yuan) who is easily the films most engaging character. His introduction is probably the highlight of the piece, his arc from soothing boss to vengeful mobster still in the pocket of corrupt police is surprisingly well realised.
Yuan also serves as the film’s fight choreographer, giving himself the best moves in some genuinely exciting encounters. One of these starts with he and his mistress being interrupted mid coitus, both smoking furiously, in her apartment and ends with a Three Stooges style comedy punch out.
As Jake moves his way from former client to gun runner to the inevitable corrupt officer at the centre of the case there’s little sense that he’s working towards anything. At one particularly cringeworthy point he’s told where to go next by a bar prostitute based on her memories of Nancy Drew mysteries. His eventual stumbling upon of the conspiracy is down to happenstance more than his own efforts. It is an end sequence falling far short of satisfactory.
One of the strangest elements of the film is that it is all done completely straight faced, even at it’s goofiest points, Sandy reading her poetry or a standoff in an abounded factory surround by mannequins there’s no humour. There is action and nudity breaking up the turgid main story thread, but this is too thinly plotted to be Chinatown or The Big Sleep and nowhere near irreverent enough to be Crank.
There is nothing new here, no commentary on genre tropes, even the martial arts are only substitutes for traditional fisticuffs. At one point the incredible side on corridor fight sequence from Oldboy is recreated for seemingly no reason other than referencing a superior work. The best compliment I can bestow on the film is that it does look good where due care has been taken, mostly in showcasing the action.
There is no gore, blood stains clothes instead of covering faces and the only Demon is gambling. Not for horror fans, perhaps for those who though Brick could have done with less characterisation and more Jet Li.