catiii

WAI DOR LEI AH YUT HO / DREAM HOUSE (2010)

Dir: Ho-Cheung Pang

Hong Kong, 96m

IMDb

CATEGORY III

This is pretty awesome for what it is. Remember CATIII films from some twenty years ago? The most gruesome violence, a seamy social underbelly, usually a plot involving revenge and some terrible crime spree; bleak, nihilistic, amoral affairs of a world abandoned to the most deviant whims and sexual appetites. On at least the matter of violence, this one is a slick return to splatterfests of yore. There is no body part that isn’t horribly mangled in some way. The pregnant woman isn’t spared. Police don’t save the day when they show up. There is no safe moral center to pivot around.

This part works, is senselessly brutal and exciting. But every now and then we veer off into extensive childhood flashbacks meant to contextualize and explain. Backstory is gradually pieced together from that direction that allows us to discern pattern in yawning madness, minutely calculated obsession. Every wild stabbing of the knife is gradually imbued with purpose.

The idea on the part of the filmmakers was probably that this was drama and human interest that would trouble how we handled violence from our end. The shift in tone would unsettle: here is a perfectly innocent young girl, and on the other end a raging psychopath.

This would grace the whole with some complexity, even respectability. The film would not be easy to dismiss but would recast aimless slaughter as greater social consequence. We learn for example that government and land proprietor thugs are ousting poor tenants from their shabby apartment blocks, in order to flatten them and build luxurious high-rise towers in their place. Prices artificially skyrocket. This is brought full circle in the end with the first news as of ‘08 of the coming global economic crisis. The problem is this is not handled in terribly interesting ways. It’s shoe-horned at the end of a bloodbath for some weight but only drags the superficial pleasures down.

So we just learn stuff someone presumed we would need to know. The whole is tied into something someone presumed would be relevant to us all. It is but I’d rather get this part from a newspaper. A newspaper doesn’t have excellent gore. So every minute spent away from cartoonish carnage and into hamfisted drama and social commentary is a minute lost for me.

Being from Hong Kong, the makers perhaps felt it was their part to address all this. Perhaps the ire is honest and comes from experience. But as far as a horror film goes, I’m surprised they allowed the lesson of A L'Interieur go wasted: brutality even more sharpened by complete awareness of the present moment.

Still, it’s pretty awesome for what it is. It just means we’ll have to concentrate on what was clearly poured into the most effort; the slick, ultraviolent slasher film.

★★★☆☆

GOU YEUNG YI SANG / DR. LAMB (1992)

Dir: Danny Lee, Billy Tang

Hong Kong, 89m

IMDb

THE SENSUAL BLUES OF DYING

As with many other viewers who commented here, I have to report a little baffled by the film’s ungodly reputation as a virulent, nasty shocker. I was likely treated to the cut Hong Kong version but it’s easy to spot out the trimmings: various scenes of our titular serial killer dissecting with a scalpel his deceased victims. We see a breast being surgically removed and stored in a jar. Incisions across different body parts. There is repeated strangulation and a tame bout of necrophilia as depraved closure. Presumably these are extended in the uncut version for added effect.

The point remains however: this is nothing like say The Untold Story if that’s what you’re looking for. Simon Yam exudes a petulant insanity that veers closer to clingy and pathetic than Anthony Wong’s brutal monstrousness. And a lot of the film, given Danny Lee’s daft involvement, is another awkwardly comedic policier about unorthodox cops matching the killer in senseless violence.

So if you are in it for brutality’s sake, you will know where to find it elsewhere. But if you have cinematic stakes in the films you watch and moreover have been developing an aesthetically preoccupied eye, you may be strangely fulfilled.

Our killer is a night shift taxi driver and every night seems to rain hard, which means we get a lot of latenight city blues played on nocturnal asphalt.

The kills are a treat to watch: inside the car parked nowhere and every glass panel drenched with rain and illuminating flashes from faraway neon, hands and bodies convulsing as though a sexual sauna is going on.

And back in the killer’s apartment, rays of light piercing through calligraphy painted on a blue wall.

And once the last victim makes a getaway, a frantic chase through pouring rain across a park like straight from a giallo.

Everything that has to do with violence and dying is sensual blues, purely stylized in a way that is erotic to watch. In film terms, this will remind you of the rain-soaked/ neon-bled yakuza films of Takashi Ishii in Japan. A bit of 80’s Mann and Wong Kar Wai, minus too much urbane poetry.

So as far as gruesome nastiness goes, this is Category II at best. Watch as a stylized crime flick.

★★★☆☆

THE UNTOLD STORY (1993)

Dir: Danny Lee, Herman Yau

Hong Kong, 96m

IMDb

NASTY CATIII SHOCKER IS ALL THAT AND A BOWLFUL OF BOWELS

Consensus view: ugly, bleak, grueling slasher film about sick restaurant owner in Macau mincing his victims into pork buns, given really strange comedic pizazz by a group of daft incompetent cops on the trail. Smudge of social commentary near the end, when the cops cannot properly solve the case by gathering clues they turn into torturers themselves.

Digging a little deeper, I believe it works the way it does because of the particular way we are situated inside the story: we only spend time with the killer as he maims and mutilates. Our primary focus is on the incompetent investigation, itself a source of ironic amusement exactly because we are two steps ahead; we know exactly what is going on and have to wait for them as they play catch-up. Every dimwitted joke is someone’s limbs hacked off down the road.

Our killer is messy and an amateur, the law enforcers perhaps even more. The police captain is always cavorting with hookers. The result is a chaotic universe without moral value or clear demarcations. How better to exemplify a corrupt, absent law than by increasingly depraved violence recast as the darkest of comedies?

★★★☆☆