The Head Hunter (1982)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-01-14
Summary: Viva Rosamund!
In "The Head Hunter" Lau Shing-Hon tries to show the terrible continuing cost of the war in Vietnam on those who took part in it, the toll that the Cold War between the U. S. and USSR had on the sovereignty of small nations and the lives of their citizens. Instead he displays his shortcomings as a writer and director. Given an interesting premise, some talented if still developing actors and an experienced technical staff he produces a dull, pointless and woefully inert mess. Chow Yun-Fat was four years and about 12 films from his starmaking turn as Mark Gor in "A Better Tomorrow" and Rosamund Kwan was making her big screen debut. Neither they nor the rest of the cast got much help in developing their characters but Martin Scorsese would have had a hard time with this lump of a script.

The only reason to watch this movie is Rosamund Kwan, with her huge eyes, eyes one could get lost in, and heart shaped face. The director (or perhaps the editor) knew their strength, finishing the film with a freeze frame of her looking pensively beautiful with a tear trickling down one cheek. But 90 minutes is much too long to wait for that one shot.

It begins with Chow Yun-Fat awakening from a nightmare in which he is being hunted in the jungle by a machete wielding madman who carries a human head in his other hand. He stumbles and just as the headhunter's knife is about to slice through his neck he wakes up. The time is late 1978 or early 1979—a lovely newsreader reports a story about the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam and another one involving Agent Orange. While the camera pans away from the television the audio remains and she begins a story involving the USSR, NATO and chemical weapons. Since the TV is playing in the office of a chemical warehouse wear two men in gas masks and rubber suits encounter each other and have a fight to the death we won't be surprised if deadly chemicals are part of the plot.

Yuen Lik, whose employer makes a point of telling him that he "deals in dollars while they use rubles" walks through a waking nightmare. His skills as a killer, honed in Vietnam, are now in great demand in Hong Kong, a place with as few rules and as many dangers as his former Southeast Asian battleground. His family is marooned in Saigon and the hope of getting them out is what drives him to become a ruthless killer for hire. Just in case we miss this living hell the next scene has an attractive women calling Yuen to invite him to go dancing that night. He tells her he can't make it. What follows are shots intercut between the disco where everyone is having a good time and Yuen killing a watchman while having flashbacks to someone machine gunning a family in a hut in Vietnam. The contrast could be more stark but it couldn't be any more obvious. Lau Shing-Hon was an inexperienced writer and director and his very heavy hand in these scenes shows it. For some reason Yuen is shown having sex with (I think) Flora Cheung while leaning against a billboard advertising the 1973 Yves Robert film "Salut l'artiste" with Marcello Mastroianni and Francois Fabain, a very odd choice. The poster itself was by far the most cinematically legitimate part of this movie.

Yuen gets cassette tapes from the family he left behind in Vietnam describing the horrors of life there and begging him to get them out. Since he has just killed three high ranking police officials who are allied with the USSR, the fifth or sixth person he has killed so far, he should have the money for their passage to the Crown Colony. The Soviet spies (or the Bear gang--the American spies are the Eagle gang--I am not making this up) send a killer after Yuen the killer fails.

The story then shifts to Vicky Lee, intrepid reporter and the newsreader shown at the beginning of the movie. She is tracking down the cause of a sudden outbreak illness at a primary school. Even though the government tries to cover it up she is able to discover that the kids had been exposed to sarin gas. This was 12 years before the attack on the Tokyo subway. Her search leads her to a film company which she thinks has imported sarin. The head of the company shows her around and she meets Yuen who is employed there as an explosives expert and action director.

The stories come together when they meet although Vicky is a little put off by the intensity of her new boyfriend—unaware, of course, that his real job is killing people in the real world and not keeping them from being injured while pretending to be killed on a movie set. His constant flashbacks to Vietnam, some occurring for no reason at all (like much of the action here) make her wary of commitment. A good thing since the insane murderer is never far from the surface in her new beau. Yuen has an existential crisis when he is told to kill Vicky, having fallen in love with her. He has lost his family, his country and everything else and is tired of killing. His agony is made worse when, while he is trying to talk her into abandoning the reports on sarin, she learns of the death of her father and Yuen realizes that Vicky's father was one of his victims. His angst over this is short lived since he is almost killed himself the next day when a stunt he is working on bursts into flames. Vicky seems to have forgotten about her father when she goes to the hospital and finds that Yuen will live.

That he is bandaged from head to toe because of burns suffered on the movie set but appears a few days later without a scratch or scar is the kind of incompetent movie making that might be worth pointing out—but in “The Head Hunter”, but the time this huge gaffe occurs, so much really bad film has run through the projector that it is just another strange scene.

Recommended only to see the film debut of Rosamund Kwan and to see how long it takes to figure out what movie the billboard is advertising during the relatively tame sex scene about 15 minutes in.
Reviewer Score: 2