he Peeping Tom" arrived quite late in the
1990s Hong Kong boom of Category III psycho killer films. With most niches
of depravity such as cannibalism, necrophilia, and so on having already
been covered by earlier efforts, the filmmakers of "Tom" were
forced to dig deep to give their maniac an original perversion. Full marks
then, as they came up with a high concept gimmick that afforded them ample
opportunity for both gore and sleaze: a suave lunatic who collects the
legs of beautiful women. Unfortunately, the film fails to score on pretty
much every other level, and is a waste of time for all but the most ardent
fan of this type of tired trash.
The plot of "The Peeping Tom" is played out
in the familiar style of a cat and mouse, cops versus psycho story. The
cop in question is Cheng Hsuen (played by Jade Leung, from the "Black
Cat" films), who becomes the killer's unwitting target after he
catches her (or more precisely, her legs) on camera during a gun battle.
The weirdo boldly enters her life, stalking her at work and hiding out in
her home, before eventually kidnapping and assaulting her sister. A
distraught Hsuen is forced to take the law into her own hands and sets out
for justice, using the killer's infatuation with her as bait to lure him
Director Kai Ming Lai (sometime credited as Ivan Lai)
is an old hand at Category III films, having been responsible for genre
of Darkness" and "Ancient
Chinese Whorehouse", amongst others. To be honest, "The
Peeping Tom" is pretty much the same as all of his films -- a
shabbily assembled collection of scenes that alternate between soft-core
sex and hardcore violence. His direction is poor, with many of the
"action" scenes being shot in a flat manner that at best
resemble unambitious pornography.
"The Peeping Tom" does appear to have a
higher budget than most films of its type, and Lai does throw in a couple
of car chases and gun battles, but these are so badly handled that they
barely register. The film has no atmosphere to speak of, and the director
annoys by choosing to bathe many of the scenes in either blue or orange.
This serves no purpose other than to suggest that he was for some reason
attempting to stylize a couple of distasteful rape scenes.
The plot is absolutely ludicrous and makes little
sense. The police seem to have an incredible amount of trouble catching
the killer, despite the fact that he strolls into their office, hands over
incriminating evidence quite happily, and spend most of the film simply
hanging around Hong Kong killing women and drinking Jack Daniel's. We are
given only the flimsiest of motivations for his murder spree, which only
adds to the general sense of exasperation that any discerning viewer will
no doubt be feeling.
In some Category III films, the lack of coherence and
logic has been quite entertaining; in "The Peeping Tom" it
simply comes across as half-assed and insulting. There is a fair amount of
sex on display, including an incredibly long shower scene, though all of
it is either clumsy or simply distasteful. The gore is reasonably
frequent, though unrealistic, and fans of the genre will definitely feel
disappointed, unless they particularly enjoy seeing unconvincing fake
limbs being tossed around.
The only possible point in the film's favor is that
the acting is quite good, and that the heroine for once has a character
that has more to do than simply shed her clothes and scream. Jade Leung is
about as good as the material allows her to be and tries hard to generate
some viewer sympathy for her plight. Miho Nomoto (a Japanese actress who
was in the Takashi Miike films "Deadly
Outlaw: Rebekka" and "Fudoh:
The Next Generation") is also appealing in a truly thankless role
as Leung's abused sister. Unfortunately, Mark Cheng, another Category III
veteran, makes for a truly bland villain, and fails to provide the kind of
pantomime performance that would have at least livened up the proceedings.
Overall, I would not advise anyone to watch "The
Peeping Tom", even lovers of the type of fare that the Category III
certificate usually entails. I can assure you that I'm not rating this
film so poorly on moral grounds, but rather on the grounds of failing to
entertain or to deliver on any level. Avoid.