Deception (1989)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-12-10
"Deception" is a thriller from the very beginning and the first 30 seconds set the tone. An gloved hand drops a letter into a mailbox. The camera follows the envelope, focusing on the address which is a lawyer at a large law firm. A dissolve brings us to the office of the lawyer with the letter open on her desk--it is a blackmail note made up of characters and words cut from magazines. Lin, the lawyer, is staring out of her window, lost in thought and the audience assumes she is thinking about the letter, who might have sent it and how she should respond. The phone rings and she starts--as do we (or at least as did I) in response. The stage is set for a thriller. However the movie goes off track by neither following a proven formula or by developing a new way for the audience to experience the fears of the heroine. It takes too long to unfold and is too diffuse to really work because "Deception" changes the focus from one of the female protagonists to another--everyone is in some danger but no one has the complete attention and sympathy of the audience.

There have been many excellent "woman in peril' thrillers over the years and the successful ones, such as "Wait Until Dark" by Terence Young with Audrey Hepburn, "Le Boucher" by Claude Chabrol with Stephane Audran or "Gaslight" by George Cukor with Ingrid Bergman, have a laser-like focus on the growing danger to the heroine. Bergman is trapped in her gloomy house, afraid to go out and feeling she is going insane; Hepburn is blind and cut off from those who might help; Audrane is emotionally crippled but strongly attracted to a man we know from the beginning is a vicious killer. In each case the women are presented as people we would like to know--attractive, smart and talented. Brigitte Lin as Lin comes across more as sneaky and duplicitious although a very tough number. She can be as menacing to the women trying to blackmail her as they are to her.

Director David Chung overuses some thriller conventions--one example is a body stuffed into a cabinet, the discovery of which would unravel the plot against Lin, being overlooked or missed by four different sets of people. In one case the doors of the cabinet swing open while a group of workers installing a security system move the cabinet and we get a view from the inside of the cabinet, essentially seeing what the corpse would see. Control of the situation switches from character to character. Lin is vulnerable to blackmail and ultimately to being injured or killed by Catherine and May but she is far from helpless. She has a police officer as a friend/lover who drops by her home unannounced. She keeps a sawed-off shotgun with ammunition in a velvet lined case and is willing to use it.

None of the characters are very noteworthy--it is hard to imagine wanting any one of them as a friend or close business associate. Catherine, a tough girl who we first seen when she is getting out of prison is resourceful and tough, traits she shows when dealing with a troublesome gangster who plans to use her as a drug mule to Europe or, if she refuses, kill her. Lin treats May more like a servant than an employee of the law firm, a role that May accepts. Elizabeth Lee has a nice turn as Mimi, a crooked stockbroker employed by Lin. Mimi cheerfully admits that she has a much better chance of landing a big client if she sleeps with him and the costuming department made good use of he strikingly sexy demeanor by dressing her in short, tight fitting leopard print dresses with black hose.

Among the many positive aspects of the movie are the excellent costuming choices in addition to Mimi’s flamboyant outfits. Bridgette Lin wears tight pencil skirts that hit below the knee and form-fitting tops, both in solid, complementary colors, an excellent combination that expressed her sexy/smart/capable lawyer character as much as anything. Pauline Wong often wore all black, but neither the high-fashion hipster look nor the slouchy grunge/semi-goth appearance. She just wore black in looked good doing so.

The set design for Lin’s large but not palatial house was very well executed and played an important part in both the plot and also in keeping the suspense and a good pitch. The basement was crowded with stuff and bit dark but not sinister—or at least wasn’t until the body was found in the cupboard after which there were more shots from over the shoulder of a characters, looking at a shadow coming down the stairs.

One major problem with the relationship of the characters was the extreme dependence on May by Lin. While it may have been done to show that Lin was ultimately a weak person and also (and most probably) to create an excuse for the blackmail against her, as the movie wore on Lin’s constant turning to May to make a phone call, close the door, open the door, find my hat, make some soup, and more, made Lin seem officious (which she was) dependent on May (also the case) and weak—which the filmmakers probably didn’t want to convey.

“Deception” is a good chance to watch four actresses (including Jody Wong in a dual role) in an over-the-top script and in good costumes but doesn’t work as a thriller.
Reviewer Score: 4