Dai yat lai aau him (Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind/Dangerous Encounters – 1st Kind) was the third film directed by Tsui Hark. Following his stylish first feature, Die bian (The Butterfly Murders, 1979) and the grim, allegorical fantasy about Mainland China, Di yu wu men (We’re Going to Eat You, 1980), it represented one of the bleakest depictions of Hong Kong society and was banned by the authorities in its original form (a version that is now lost). Tsui was forced to re-edit the film, eliminating several explicit political references, and adding new scenes before the film was released to disappointing box office returns. This led to Tsui changing direction with his next film Gui ma zhi duo xing (All the Wrong Clues, 1981) – a work that gained a far more favourable reception – and his later more commercial work for Cinema City.
Dangerous Encounters employs socio-economic motifs similar to those in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), as well as news reports of grim happenings within the colony, and a conclusion that leaves the one surviving character totally insane. It also parallels Mario Bava’s 1975 urban drama Rabid Dogs (a film that would not be released until the 1990s) with its gallery of totally repugnant characters, none of whom provide any opportunity for audience identification. Tsui’s film is one of the cinema’s most brutal and nihilistic works due to its profound deglamourisation of Hong Kong as an urban location (in contrast to such Orientalist Hollywood productions such as Henry King’s 1955 Love is a Many-Splendored Thing and Richard Quine’s The World of Suzy Wong, 1960). It also eschews the safety mechanisms of juvenile delinquency films such as The Wild One (Laslo Benedek, 1954) and Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) that conclude by reassuring audiences that “the kids are all right” after all. This is equally true of such Cantonese films as Lung Kong’s Fei nu zheng zhuan (Teddy Girls, 1969) and other local productions focused on “disaffected youth”. No such assurances exist in a film that many regard as Tsui’s greatest contribution to the Hong Kong New Wave. It represents a path some felt he betrayed by his change of direction towards more commercial ventures.
Opening within one of Hong Kong’s cramped and dark tenement apartments, the camera pauses on a cage containing white mice. A hand reaches out to extract one, insert a nail into its brain, and return the agonised creature back to the cage where it will be devoured by other mice. Dangerous Encounters is not a film for the sensitive viewer since it contains many scenes of animal cruelty such as the impalement of a cat on barbed wire railings that will offend many. (Some years ago my two cats confirmed that feline sounds heard on the soundtrack were not faked!) Significantly, Tsui has raided the music library to use the Goblin soundtrack from George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), thus giving the bleak opening an aura that has appropriately apocalyptic dimensions. It also metaphorically reinforces the cannibalistic motif running throughout the film of a society drenched in bloodshed and violence, and whose inhabitants prey on each other. The image of Hong Kong is not positive. An early scene shows an umbrella splattered with red paint thrown by delinquents from a decaying high-rise apartment, an image reprised in the final shot of the film.
The central characters comprise a menacing sociopathic teenager Wan-chu (Lin Chung-chi), and three alienated male high school students who go on a criminal rampage. After witnessing the students kill a pedestrian in a hit-and-run accident, Wan-chu dominates them by the force of her personality to engage in a robbery of Japanese tourists, set bombs inside cinemas (this was supposedly explicit in the no longer extant original cut) and terrorise Hong Kong society (also discovering the contract and cheques that a group of mercenary American Vietnam veteran are using for an arms deal with a Japanese terrorist). They hope to launder the money and go to Canada like Detective Lok (a reference to the infamous Lee Rock whom Andy Lau would later portray in the 1991 film of the same name directed by Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheung). Hong Kong is presented as an environment of corruption and violence with an appropriate ending occurring in a vast graveyard somewhere on the Kowloon peninsula. Money dominates the Hong Kong economy and virtually every character in the film. The violent conclusion in that location represents another appropriate metaphor for those trapped within an economically-driven society dominated by the Death Instinct.
Both Lisa Morton and Tsui Hark use the word anger when discussing this film (1). Although Morton denies that the director was angry at the contemporary political and socio-economic system in Hong Kong, local critics such as Law Kar and Ng Ho immediately recognised such meanings, even in the re-edited version. Kar saw the film as “Tsui’s extreme metaphor for the local people under the cultural and economic domination of foreigners”, and as “one of those very rare films in the history of Hong Kong cinema that brims with accusation and subversion, and whose use of violence has a special significance” (2). See-Kam Tan also notes relevant parallels to the anti-colonial writings of Frantz Fanon, especially Les Damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth) (3). Stephen Teo mentions that the original version contained a brief coda consisting of still photos of the 1967 Hong Kong riots that Tsui eliminated after the objections of the censors (4). However, despite removing this coda and replacing it with “quick flashes of old newspaper clippings about real-life violent crimes in colonial Hong Kong” (5) the image of a Hong Kong colony drenched in blood and violence still remains. The film’s alternative title, Don’t Play with Fire, has more than one parallel with specific political events Hong Kong authorities wished to forget. Teo mentions that the first version had the three students making explosive devices and placing them inside a cinema (6). Although the incident appears unmotivated in the re-edited version, one member of the audience comments “Not another bombing” as if it is a common occurrence, like the incident depicted in John Woo’s recreation of the 1967 riots in Die xue jie tou (Bullet in the Head, 1990). The Molotov cocktails flung at the Triads in the underground car park sequence, as well as the gasoline thrown at the boys by Wan-chu earlier, angered at their inability to help her rob Japanese tourists, remain in a film that could easily have borne the title of Ringo Lam’s incendiary Lung fu fong wan (City on Fire, 1987). Yet, despite its re-editing, these surviving fragments do remain as traces of Tsui’s original intentions, as See-Kam Tan also notes in his 1996 article. Censorship can lead to acts of resistance and subversion and Tan draws attention to one scene (that must have been added to the film) where the superintendent of Wu-chan’s police officer brother Tan (Lo Lieh) tells him, “The political situation in Hong Kong is rather special. It is very sensitive. It is no good offending any side. I want no trouble for all of us.”
This suggests that these are not run-of-the-mill crimes. The youths have robbed Japanese tourists essential to Hong Kong’s tourist trade and have evoked the violent wrath of a powerful group of Americans. As Teo points out,
When the first version was submitted to the censors, objections were immediately raised about the anti-social attitudes of the students who placed bombs in public places, as well as their anti-foreign (anti-American?) sentiments. To a government whose memories about the 1967 anti-colonial riots inspired by the Cultural Revolution were still fresh and when bomb scares were common, these scenes struck too close to home. The film was banned. (7)
However, the addition of new scenes involving Hong Kong police and Special Branch forces on the trail of the Americans as well as others featuring actors such as John Shum in cameo roles as police officers, appear to be about as effective as the “enraged citizens” sequence in Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932), and equally redundant. Although the original political content is diluted, it still remains and Tsui’s use of neo-noir cinematography visually suggests other radical political and social meanings to replace what he had to cut out.
Dangerous Encounters is certainly a dark companion piece to Tsui’s equally apocalyptic We’re Going to Eat You, a film that depicted the Mainland Chinese as Eastern counterparts to the Sawyer family in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Specific traces of more overt political reference do remain in Tsui’s choice of neo-noir cinematography to depict Hong Kong society as a dangerous urban jungle where people prey on each other like ferocious animals. These elements evoke early naturalist novels such as Frank Norris’ Vandover and the Brute (1914) and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906). In Tsui’s film, Hereditary factors produce several types of disaffected youth such as Paul, the son of affluent bourgeois parents who listen to classical music and close their eyes and ears to the discordant savage sounds outside. In keeping with this, Wan-chu has to deal with an abusive and drunken older brother. It is natural that the grim environmental conditions surrounding the characters trigger off different types of sociopathic behavior, whether it involves revenging Hong Kong’s wartime humiliation on a group of affluent Japanese tourists or performing actions reminiscent of the 1967 riots. The power Wan-chu wields over the three young high school students resembles that of a savage female revolutionary Red Guard ordering the masses into submission.
Eventually, a grim battle for survival begins in a graveyard between a group of bloodthirsty, heavily armed, former American Vietnam veterans and the three surviving high school students, anticipating the apocalyptic “season in hell” displayed by Woo in Bullet in the Head. Unlike that later work, there are no survivors in Dangerous Encounters. But the grim urban jungle of Hong Kong remains suggesting that another type of violent revolt may occur in the future and one that the authorities may find themselves powerless to contain. In this respect Dangerous Encounters is not only an interesting premonition of Hong Kong neo-noir and its global capitalist dimensions but also a film highly indebted to the traditions of literary naturalism, a legacy that reveals the violent convulsions that face an urban society trapped within the confines of its own economic Social Darwinism (8). Despite its nihilistic conclusion, Dangerous Encounters is perhaps more pertinent to our current global economic crisis than to the time in which it was originally released.
- Lisa Morton, The Cinema of Tsui Hark, McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2001, pp. 40-41
- Morton, p. 45.
- See-Kam Tan, “Ban(g)! Ban(g)! Dangerous Encounters – 1st Kind: Writing with Censorship”, Asian Cinema vol. 8, no. 1, 1996, pp. 83-108.
- Stephen Teo, Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions, BFI, London, 1997, pp. 164-165.
- See-Kam Tan, “Surfing with the Surreal in Tsui Hark’s Wave: Collage Practice, Diasporic Hybrid Texts, and Flexible Citizenship”, Hong Kong Screenscapes: From the New Wave to the Digital Frontier, ed. Esther M.K. Cheung, Gina Marchetti and See-Kam Tan, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2011, p. 45.
- Teo, p. 165.
- Teo, p. 165.
- For the relationship between naturalism and film noir (that can also be applied to neo-noir) see Foster Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, Da Capo Press, New York, 2001, p.50.
Dai yat lai aau him/Dangerous Encounters – First Kind/Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind/Don’t Play with Fire (1980 Hong Kong 95 mins)
Prod Co: Fotocine Prod: Thomas Fung Wing-fat Dir: Tsui Hark Scr: Roy Szeto Cheuk-hon, Chun Fong, Eddie Fong Ling-cheung Phot: David Chung Chi-man Ed: Cheung Kan Chow, Wai Wu Tsi Art Dir: Tony Au Dong-ping Mus: Tang Siu-lam, Yu Leun
Cast: Lin Chung-chi, Lo Lieh, Tse Bo-law, Lung Tin-sang, Au Siu Leung, Bruce Baron, Ray Lui