Black Cat in Jail (2000, Hong Kong)
This third offering in the Black Cat series is closer to The Joy Luck Club (1993), it seems, than to the original Black Cat (1991). After the opening five action-packed minutes it’s decidedly light on in derring-do and prison movie-staples such as intimidation, intrigue and violence (although there is some of the latter), preferring to focus on the journeys of four women in prison and the bond they develop.
Jean (Jade Leung) is an assassin. A beautiful assassin, mind you. We see her kill lots of rival gangsters (all of the can’t-shoot-straight-to-save-myself variety), but then one of her bullets forces a boy to fall off the roof of a building. Unlucky. She grabs him, mid-air. Lucky. But her moment of weakness in not allowing the lad to fall to his death proves her undoing; the Police nab her and she winds up doing a life sentence in Hong Kong’s Tai Lam Centre for Women. She doesn’t find it an easy transition to prison. She’s jumpy, interpreting every sudden movement as a threat she’s trained to repel. She’s disengaged, self-contained, and thinks she needs no-one.
Gradually, that changes. She’s helped by three other women, whose stories we learn. Surprisingly, all have been used, manipulated or let down by men. Moon, whose young son is rapidly drifting away from her, is the only innocent, her bag at the airport being switched for one packed with drugs. Mindy stabbed her husband to death after obtaining proof of an affair. And Kiki was duped into a dodgy financial deal, only to make things worse by running down a policeman who was trying to arrest her. (Apologies for the anglicised names).
Mindy’s time is made more difficult by the fact that her husband’s lover turns up in the prison, too, having stabbed the man who helped her escape the mainland (with her child by Mindy’s husband in tow), this other man having raped her. Mindy wants to kill her husband’s concubine, but she soon recognises that she is nice woman, which makes it more difficult. And further, from this woman’s unwitting description of her lover’s wife (through the eyes of her husband) she begins to look at her role in her marriage and her husband’s infidelity in a different light. Still, she can’t bring herself to tell her rival that she had killed him. And Kiki, who dreams of a showbiz career, gets her some previous cosmetic surgery on her nose and chin rearranged with a billiard cue, and becomes suicidal.
Prison does what prisons do, and each becomes institutionalised. Kiki fears that the love she feels for her friends might be turning her into a lesbian. And Jean starts to see her imprisonment as fortunate, telling the others: “Prison should be a dark place, and here I find something I’ve never had. That is your friendship and sincerity.” Given the task to murder one of the women for her boss, she declines. Provided with the means to escape by her still-grateful boss, she chooses friendship over a return to an assassin’s life on the edge, and forgoes the opportunity to be free.
It’s an unusual film, visually very similar to Hong Kong’s Women Prison (1988), but focusing on the women’s own battles rather than their battles with guards and other prisoners. The subtitling on the DVD I watched only added to its quirkiness, finishing with Jean musing wonderfully that Kiki’s hope for her future “seems to come real unnotedly.” Irrefutable, I’d say.
Posted on November 14th, 2009 at 11:40 pm. Updated on November 15th, 2009 at 7:45 pm.
#305 in the Top 500