Death Traps Helen Li Mei, Roy Chiao Hung, Ouyang Shafei, Tien Ching Director: Wong Tin-lam The cobblestone streets of colonial Macau form a menacing backdrop to the travails of a former nightclub hostess in this, one of Hong Kong's most atmospheric film noir thrillers. Death Traps represents a rare Mandarin-dialect foray into Hitchcock territory, exceptional for its intricate plot and mature characterisations. Although the pace falters towards the end, the blend of top-ranking stars, masterful direction, nuanced writing and the overall quality that was a hallmark of studio MP&GI (Motion Picture & General Investment) make this relatively unheralded film a classic. Even more surprising is that the scenario comes from the pen of Chang Cheh, whose later directorial fame churning out muscle-bound action sagas is barely hinted at in the picture's sensitive delineation of alcoholic heroine Lin Chieh-yun (Helen Li Mei, right). Smart and sophisticated till she starts drinking, Lin is about to learn just how self-destructive her condition is. There will be no spoilers in this review, but rest assured her 'lost weekend' is rife with potentially fatal implications as she becomes ensnared in a shadowy underworld at odds with her status as fianc?e to prominent architect Lo Shou-li (Roy Chiao Hung). The two leads imbue their roles with understated authority. Li oozes a mixture of sensuality and intelligence that gives Lin both gravity and beauty, making it easy to understand why Lo remains so smitten despite her flaws. There is considerable chemistry between the two, and there probably wasn't an actor in Mandarin movies better suited for Li's vis-?-vis than Chiao, an ex-boxer who possessed brains and brawn in marked contrast to the scrawniness prevalent in pre-kung-fu era male stars. Unlike Li, who retired from the screen a few years later, Chiao went on to a long career culminating 35 years hence in his award-winning turn as a senile father in Summer Snow. The supporting cast is also notable, with Tien Ching endowing his stalker with unexpected menace, and Ouyang Shafei, once Shanghai's top box-office attraction, here transitioning into character parts, providing comic relief as Lin's gossipy ex-colleague. Director Wong Tin-lam loads the proceedings with a palpable sense of milieu, particularly in the Macau sequences. The locales range from the tranquil Bela Vista Hotel and raucous casinos to a sinister coffin shop that qualifies as a high point in Hong Kong cinematic expressionism and a tribute to the skill of Fan Jie's black-and-white camera work. This was an especially fruitful period for the director, father of the equally prolific filmmaker Wong Jing, who even now in his 80s steals scenes as a distinctive character actor. Death Traps is but one of about a dozen features Wong Tin-lam helmed back in 1960, a list that includes another masterpiece in the celebrated semi-musical Wild, Wild Rose. The films epitomise a style that by decade's end would be supplanted by 'scope, colour and macho martial arts.