The Peeping Tom (1997) Movie Review

“The 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 in.

Director Kai Ming Lai (sometime credited as Ivan Lai) is an old hand at Category III films, having been responsible for genre efforts “Daughter 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.

Kai Ming Lai (director)
CAST: Mark Cheng …. Roy Chen Chih-Lai
Jade Leung …. Cheng Hsuen
Miho Nomoto …. Kelly
Michael Tse …. Ken Chang
Rachel Tucker …. Blonde

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