For over 20 years now, the Hong Kong movie industry has made epic genre films that zoom, splatter, catapult, and scream like the most feral exploitation cinema. But what of HK exploitation itself? We may be sorry we asked. The cardboard charnel house of Subway Cinema’s new Anthology retro more or less tracks the, um, progress from the goofy kung-fu horror flicks of the early ’80s to the peerlessly tasteless bedlam of the ’90s. HK’s familiar visual lingo (fish-eye hysteria, aerial combat, blue ether, dinner-theater sets) is ever present, but the territory is scorched-earth tabooland.
The muck begins at a slow boil—Sammo Hung’s Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1981) and Ricky Lau’s much imitated hopping-zombie comedy Mr. Vampire (1985) are supremely silly shambles, distinguished by their acrobatic shenanigans. The rare, early, ultra-trashy Devil Fetus (1983) portends the future with its copulating scab demon and worm consumption, but the great plunge is taken by Nam Nai-choi’s The Story of Ricky (1992), a rather astonishing, starkly stylized blood flood set inside a privatized prison. The enraged hero punches his enemy’s eyes out, their bellies open, and their heads in half until someone attempts to strangle him with their intestines and the warden turns into a snot-drooling ogre. And so on.
In HK movies, the body is a fragile thing indeed; severed limbs tend to come in heaps. Herman Yau’s true-crime saga The Untold Story (1993) takes a relatively concrete view of carnage; a step-by-step procedural on how to make human-meat “pork buns” is easily trumped by a gallingly vicious rape scene and the spectacle of the raving serial-killer hero hacking up a gagged family of seven. Billy Tang’s Red to Kill (1994) is merely appalling—perhaps the most vile exploitation film about rape ever made. As a muscle-bound serial rapist, Ben Ng delivers a seizuratic performance that verges on the prosthetic mutations of ’80s werewolf movies, sans makeup.
No less transgressive, Bosco Lam’s A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994) is a spirited period sex farce that somehow incorporates ancient torture methods, floggings, ghost rapes, mid-air coitus, fire-hose ejaculations, castration, Chinese sex toys, and the ominous postmortem verdict: “death by penis explosion.” Similarly, Chin Man-kei’s absurd The Eternal Evil of Asia (1995) witnesses the havoc a Thai curse wreaks on four HK buddies, from a penis-head transformation to a caterwauling melee of zombie combat and oceanic bloodletting. The oddest inclusion is Lo Chi-leung’s Inner Senses (2002), a polished Sixth Sense cover best described as tasteful. Leslie Cheung stars as a workaholic psychologist whose patient (Karena Lam) sees ghosts. Taking a sharp left turn halfway, Lo’s movie becomes an ultimately poignant face-off between the lonesome dead and the unforgiven living.