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THE UNPUBLICIZABLE FILE (1993) / THE UNTOLD STORY (1993).

Besides its more obvious attributes, Hong Kong cinema has always been on the cutting edge of bad taste and gross-out edginess. If you don't believe me, just take a look at such repugnance-fests as MEN BEHIND THE SUN, RUN AND KILL and LEWD LIZARD. So it's no surprise to find not one -- but a pair of new titles dealing bluntly with the tasty topic of cannibalism.

For our first course, we have UNPUBLICIZABLE FILE, a dark little ditty that's nothing but pure, rotgut exploitation. And though lacking any sense of subtlety or style, it somehow manages to be soooo blatantly trashy that it's an unintentional laff riot for undemanding video deviants. A prostitution ring is at the center of this tale, complete with shots of lingeried hookers lounging 'round a cheap apartment, smoking cigs, shooting up, and looking quite bored with this gig. But when one of the ladies is brutally murdered during an escape attempt, the police are called in. Viewers looking for a drama that exposes the underbelly of real-life crime shouldn't get their hopes up, because they'll be sorely disappointed. But anyone looking for tawdry, masturbatory fodder will have a field day, since the filmmakers linger on only the most gratuitous elements -- like sex, blood, torture, and atrocious acting. Plus, to pad out the running time to a whopping 82 minutes, the viewer is 'treated' to a seemingly-endless barrage of pointless sex scenes. I swear, a quarter of this movie consists of writhing bimbo flesh, doggie-style schtupping, even a lesbian lick-fest. And though nothing hardcore is ever shown, each scene is pulled off with all the care and finesse of any generic porno loop. But I'm just getting to the best part of the film, which features Master Liang, a cook at a local restaurant. Using an Altmanesque parallel narrative, the filmmakers introduce us to Liang, a shitstain in the form of a human being who has a bad limp and an even worse temper. This Liang is a real charmer -- he gambles too much, blows all his cash on cheap dames, slashes his crabby dishwasher to death with a butcher knife, then chops him to pieces and makes human sausages. So in between the repetitive sex scenes, true sleazemavens can revel at Liang following the SWEENEY TODD route of madness by turning his victims into dumplings and feeding them to unsuspecting customers. It's too bad there's not much else going for the movie with the exception of cheap thrills. This creep is nothing but your basic, cackling, sex-obsessed madman, and the film's high points are at Liang's expense -- such as when he's force fed his own delicacies, and is later driven mad by "ghosts". On an additional note, this flick is unlikely to be embraced by the Asian women's movement, since the distaff cast members are routinely stripped, pummeled, abused, hung naked by their feet, whipped, and (if Liang gets his mitts on them) treated like meat. Literally. That's especially true in the case of the restaurant owner's daughter (as well as the heroic cop's squeeze), who's cruelly raped, slashed and dismembered, for no other reason than to keep the plot rolling. This is pure sleaze, through and through, and I'd suspect it accomplishes everything the witless filmmakers set out to do. But even though it succeeds at being a genuinely mean-spirited movie, best appreciated by piss-drunk, misogynistic sadists, it's never clever or deranged enough to actually be a good movie.

THE UNTOLD STORY runs the same basic route, with a madman turning his victims into taste treats, but while FILE has the grainy, one-take look of a quick throwaway production, STORY has a more serious veneer, a crisp style and plenty of genuine suspense. And although laden with cliched supporting characters, nothing can dilute its disturbing edge and striking performance by Anthony Wong as this pic's villain. It begins like a standard policier, with the discovery of a bagful of dismembered human limbs at the seashore. A squad of detectives are called in on the case, and a more unlikable bunch of comic relief shitheels you've never seen. It's as if these actors graduated magna cum laude from the Beverly Hills Cop School of Acting. And for much of the first half, we're stuck with these clownish clods, who spend less time investigating the murder than they do indulging in autopsy humor, oogling the voluptuous 'dates' their boss (Danny Lee) drags through the squad room, or giving grief to the lone female in the office. So much time is spent on these morons that the viewer almost longs for the long-winded sexcapades that padded out FILE -- at least you could fast forward through those scenes without missing any important plot details. Don't get discouraged too quickly though, because the film leaps to life whenever we encounter the crew-cutted psychopath, Wong Chi Hang. Vividly played by Anthony Wong (who won Hong Kong's best actor award for his performance), this guy is a coiled, cruel bastard who runs a local restaurant and has a secret history of foul deeds (briefly glimpsed in the incendiary prologue). When the filmmakers finally put Wong in the center ring (by having him eviscerate a nosy employee) the film finds its footing and becomes a searing glimpse into unconditional evil. And unlike the crude exploitation of UNPUBLICIZABLE, this pic is truly dark, brutal, and not without a touch of sick humor, like when Wong feeds the cops some of his "pork" buns while they're questioning him about the disappearance of his previous boss. There are a few similarities between the two crime dramas -- such as the rape of a woman in the killer's kitchen before he slaughters her (though in this pic, Wong accomplishes the deed with a handful of chopsticks...I dare any woman to watch this scene without flinching) -- but the comparisons end there. This STORY gives more depth and texture to the killer's character, and there's as much difference between the this double bill's murderers as there are between Hannibal Lecter and your simple drive-in maniac. The film's third act breaks free of the cops 'n' criminals formula when Wong is arrested and sent to prison for the murders of his employer and entire family. This leads to some intriguing twists when the tables turn and Wong becomes the victim -- the guy's repeatedly beaten by fellow inmates, hospitalized after a botched suicide attempt, further tortured in an effort to make him confess, and it all builds to a gruesome climax featuring a detailed flashback of Wong's notorious crime. And if weak-stomached viewers think the idea of slashing childrens' throats is a little much to stomach, just wait until he begins hacking them up and tossing their li'l limbs onto a pile. This is powerful stuff, but the film's true success lies in the fact that Wong is a complex (albeit severely fucked up) lunatic. Though a mass murderer and general asshole, the filmmakers manage to work their way into his head, subvert the viewer's expectations, and almost has us empathizing with the psycho. Now that's filmmaking... For cheap, stoopid thrills, UNPUBLICIZABLE FILE is good fun on a slow Saturday night with a six pack of Genesee Cream Ale within arm's reach. But for viewers looking for something a little darker and with more emotional resonance, UNTOLD STORY wins hands down. Laced with solid, harsh sequences and an uncompromising performance at its core, the film's impact is diluted only by tired police interplay which would fit more comfortably in POLICE ACADEMY GOES TO HONG KONG than in this powerful yarn.

© 1994 by Steven Puchalski.