An urgent phone call in the dead of night summons dashing Hong Kong private eye Chang Wen-Chiang (Ling Yun) to the apartment of his girlfriend Li Han-hsing (Shirley Wong). He arrives to find her lying in a pool of blood, right next to another dead man. Shortly thereafter an autopsy reveals Han-hsing was pregnant. To find out what happened Chang beds sexy call girl Ruby (Tina Ti Na), evidently not too devastated by his girlfriend’s murder to get some. She leads him to a racy underground nightclub run by gorgeous mini-skirted femme fatale Luna (Angela Yu Chien) where wealthy, anonymous, domino-masked patrons are entertained by the erotic spectacle of scantily-clad lovelies riding half-naked dudes like race horses. Somehow this is all connected to a drug-smuggling ring and an elusive criminal mastermind, but how can Chang crack the case when every woman he meets winds up dead?
Genre fans that rediscovered this kitschy Shaw Brothers thriller from the late Sixties have retroactively labelled it a Hong Kong giallo. Yet while Dark Rendezvous does indeed share a delirious filmmaking style, notable body-count and killer with black gloves in common with the Italian horror sub-genre, its neon-drenched mis-en-scene, ceaseless Dutch angles, comic book pace and irresistible go-go fashions are more reflective of Japanese thrillers from the Fifties and early Sixties. Which is to be expected since it was directed by Mitsuo Murayama, one of a string of Japanese filmmakers brought to Hong Kong by the Shaw Brothers. The likes of Murayama, Umetsugu Inoue and Matsuo Akinori infused the staid local cinema scene with a shot of pop art visual flair and sex, both of which are in abundance here.
The film starts with a bang then, despite being a largely talky affair rather than action driven, rattles along at a fair clip, tightening the suspense screws on our handsomely hapless hero. Lead actor Ling Yun, more often a shifty supporting villain in swordplay films, makes for a charismatic and compellingly flawed hero. One whose taste for erotic adventure (and more often than not: not thinking with his head) leads him into dangerous, compromised positions, oddly prescient of Clint Eastwood's kinky cop in the underrated Tightrope (1984). While Dark Rendezvous' kitsch portrait of Hong Kong’s seamy underbelly smacks more of titillating fantasy than gritty authenticity, the film does offer a charming snapshot of the city's swinging nightlife circa the late Sixties: smoky jazz bars, Motown hits blaring on the jukebox, ladies of the evening slinking around in chic mini-dresses, mod thugs in sharp suits and shades leaping out of the shadows. It is a lot of fun.
Murayama structures his suspense sequences like musical numbers scattered throughout a silly, though still compelling, plot. It exists largely to ferry Chang from one surreal nightclub sequence to another (the aforementioned "horse race"; a blistering belly dance number; a bizarre game show auctioning off call girls that looks like a porno take on Deal or No Deal). Later on the film wheels on Lisa Chiao Chiao, then a big star in the wake of her role in One-Armed Swordsman (1967), as Chang's fiancé. That's right, this whole time he has been sleeping around while engaged. Classy guy, huh? While the plot tries to mould Chiao-Chiao into a Moneypenny-like sidekick, her notably more modestly attired heroine is a much weaker personality, lacking the agency allotted her morally ambivalent co-stars. The action sequences, though not plentiful, are lively and well choreographed. Including a rip-roaring climactic cops vs. crooks shootout and a remarkable one-against-a-dozen sequence filmed via a lateral tracking shot that anticipates Park Chan-wook's staging of the corridor fight in Oldboy (2003). Wu Shih's screenplay is also often very witty. As when Chang remarks to the disrobing Luna that racy scenes in Hong Kong movies are almost always censored - while the camera pans tastefully to a tinted overhead mirror.