The scene at the heart of Ngai Choi Lam's sci-fi horror film The Cat (also called The 1000 Years Cat) takes the old war between cats and dogs, the premier pets in the West, to a level that has no match in all of cinema. You have to see it to believe it. It happens at night in a car graveyard. The cat (named The General) attacks the dog (Lao Pu). The dog, which is hired to track down aliens, attacks the cat. The cat turns on the window wipers on a dead car. The window wipers hit the barking dog's baggy and slobbery face. And so on, and so on—for a good five minutes.
The cat is an alien (or the form an alien takes), and other aliens appear as a young woman and a middle-aged man. They come from a faraway star that's under the influence of evil aliens. The cat, woman, and man are stranded on earth. The young woman flies. Indeed, one of the most beautiful scenes in The Cat captures the woman flying above Hong Kong. She lands on TV antennas with the lightness of an angel. The sky is starless. The music is otherworldly. The cat watches her with a look that all cat owners can easily recognize. It seems transfixed, absorbed, fascinated but the spell can easily be broken by a hind leg's call for licking. This snap from all of you to all of me is so alien to humans.
And I think this is the key of the movie, which is non-stop weird: cats are downright weird. The human-form aliens (the girl and the middle-aged man, who is her protector) can only be normal. Nothing they do really surprises us; even the young woman's flight through the night still looks all too human. But the movie's cat is convincingly alien because in a sense all earth cats are pretty alien.
Their fascination with boxes, their obsession with Christmas trees, the way they can never miss a spot that will give them the most comfort (a brand new cushion, a fresh pile of clothes, the hood of a recently parked car), the way they stare out of a window, the way they lose interest as fast as they gain it, the way they suddenly stop walking and dart a look this or that way, the way they can fuck with small rodents they've captured. The cat kills the thing only slowly.
Not too long ago, I watched my cat play with a mouse it mortally wounded. She did it for what seemed like hours. The mouse complained (squeaked) and complained (squeaked): "Let me just die. Just kill me. Please, just get it over and done with. I never liked this life anyway. Living in fear all of the time. Humans and their traps. I've had enough. Give me the big sleep now." My cat would act as if it had lost interest in the poor creature, look at something else—the leaves of a wind-blown tree, a passing cyclist, the moon, which was full that night—in the hope that the mouse would try to make an escape. But the mouse was too finished to play this cruel game. It just wanted to die. My cat wanted to dominate what remained of its little life. She's from another star.
Ngai Choi Lam's The Cat screens this Friday, March 11, at 8:30 PM and Saturday, March 12, at 10 PM at The Beacon in Columbia City. The Stranger Suggests you see it. Check out more of our top picks for this week right here.