Friday, April 29, 2011

In PURSUIT of Mou Tun Fei

by András (Deliria)

Mou Tun Fei (aka. T.F. Mous) needs no introduction here, but his Shaw Brothers days are still overshadowed by his better known MEN BEHIND THE SUN. Not helping matters that his major work at Shaw Brothers, called BANK BUSTERS (1978) is unavailable on video.

The success of that film (a story about illegal immigrant criminals in Hong Kong) led to LOST SOULS, a kind of semi-sequel to BANK BUSTERS and one of the most extreme productions of the history of the studio. LOST SOULS was also a box office hit, so Shaw immediately signed Mou to do another modern exploitation (they called it "socio-realism" back then), this time on the subject of death penalty. The upcoming film, entitled THE STING OF DEATH was heavily promoted in Shaw's own magazine, Southern Screen.

Then - either in the middle of shooting or post-prod - Mou got in disagreements with the Shaws regarding his contract, left the production and travelled to communist China, where he started making movies again, including MEN BEHIND THE SUN. THE STING OF DEATH was left unreleased for four years, until 1985, when Shaw Brothers got two of the original film's stars Lo Meng and Pai Piao (both of 5 VENOMS fame) back on board, and assigned director Taylor Wong (BUDDHA'S PALM, SENTENCED TO HANG) to finish it up, using as much of Mou's footage as possible. With the help of overdubbing and newly shot footage, the story has been altered in such a way that it was no longer about death penalty, more like a gritty crime thriller with a warehouse-set action-scene to top it off. They called the result PURSUIT OF A KILLER and released to cinemas in September of 1985. The film did very poorly.

Contrary to the poster art (which is one of the worst I have ever seen coming out of HK) PURSUIT's story is not about a razorblade wielding woman in high heels who faces off a gweilo guy holding a gun to a sexy woman's head. I wish! Rather, it is about three mainland refugees/low level triads, who are arrested during their robbery job in HK. After serving their sentence, they are killed one by one by an unknown assassin. The last remaining convict (played with over-the-top enthusiasm by Lo Mang) is bailed out by the police and used as a bait. In its current form (available on VCD from Celestial, HK), the movie includes about 70% of Mou Tun Fei's work. I took these on-set pics from an 1981 issue of Southern Screen (thanks to Lynn Haynes Memorial Collection) accompanied by matching screenshots from PURSUIT.

It is not that easy to spot the new footage, unless you concentrate on Lo Meng's ever changing hairstyle. The major problem that the filmmakers (in '85) faced was that they couldn't bring back the actor who played the assassin in the original footage.

Luckily for them, Mou shot the murder scenes in the style of a giallo (these are the best bits in the film, btw), so the face of the actor only shows up towards the end. You may then notice that the character is in fact played by two different actors. All the scenes featuring this guy (Michael Tong) was shot later:

What is interesting here is how Taylor Wong tried to ape Mou Tun Fei's style, so the result wouldn't be a total mess. There are a couple of sleazy sex scenes so Wong does one as well, but in more flashy way (shot by the great HKSC cinematographer, Arthur Wong). And no Mou Tun Fei movie would be complete without sodomy. Surprisingly, this sequence (which looks toned down) was mainly done by Wong, but at least one differently lit shot crops up from the original, and I'm sure Mou's version was the more extreme.

While far from a great film, the production history of PURSUIT OF A KILLER makes it an entertaining curiosity-piece, its thankless cut and paste job can either be seen as a cynical attempt by the then failing studio to release a product, or as a testament of the editing skills of HK filmmakers. Both points are valid.

Big thank-yous go out to András for this feature on Mou Tun Fei's (aka. T.F. Mous) "lost" film. I own the Celestial video-cd and wasn't even aware that it's (mostly) directed by Mou! Check out András' own cool blog here and (and bring a Google translator for Hungarian!). His latest entry is on the grim HK flick INTRUDER!


  1. I watched the film last night and altho András calls it "far from a great film" I though it was pretty good. It would definitely have been interesting to see Mou's original film. Too bad they didn't release it on DVD. The VCD is still listed at Sensasian.

  2. Yeah, it looks like Bank Busters, Lost Souls and Sting of Death were supposed to be sort of a trilogy of the plight of illegal immigrants in HK.

    I didn't know about this one though I had vaguely heard a film called Sting of Death related to TF Mou before until Brian showed me a Southern Screen Article. Sadly Black Sunshine was almost done with editing by then, the final edition will make mention of this film, though probably briefly as I never asked TF about it. Sadly I think I'm gonna be tightening up the pacing of the Shaw stuff a bit.