As several Category III highlights are reissued, James Balmont takes a look at Hong Kong’s exploitation boom of the 90s
textJames Balmont There ’ south nothing quite like the allure of controversy. And with Prano Bailey-Bond transport audiences spinal column to the acme of Thatcherite paranoia with new british repugnance film Censor last month, it feels like video recording nasties are all the rage again .
The Video Recordings Act of 1984, for those uninformed, had made banned italian exploitation classics Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Flesh Eaters and Tenebrae – a well as british and american english works like Norman J. Warren ’ south Inseminoid and Sam Raimi ’ s Evil Dead – ill-famed in 80s Britain. But by the end of the ten, these territories would find themselves out-nastied as Hong Kong filmmakers took advantage of their own new film classification system.
The Hong Kong motion visualize rate system of 1988 had introduced three levels of age restrictions for film materials, with the strictest being Category III – which deemed a movie unsuitable for anyone younger than 18 to view. The purpose was to protect young people from being exposed to dangerous or unsuitable material. But in exercise, the classification became a coveted brand signifying sex, ferocity and dirty thrills .
The wildest text of the early 90s Category III flower are intensely vivid in their depictions of ferociousness, borderline pornographic and, on occasions, outright offensive by modern standards. And yet even actors deoxyadenosine monophosphate esteemed as Hou Hsiao-hsien muse Shu Qi ( Millennium Mambo, The Assassin ) and Wong Kar-wai front-runner Leslie Cheung ( Days of Being Wild, Happy Together ) made names for themselves with begrimed comedies like Viva Erotica. Either way, with the Hong Kong Handover looming on the horizon as 1997 approached, sparking fears of greater censoring under the authority of Mainland China, exploitation cinema boomed to the extent that up to 25 per cent of all films produced in Hong Kong in the 90s were branded Category III .
The Hong Kong film industry ’ south fears are now amply realised in 2021, with restrictive newly legislation in the name of “ national security system ” effectively requiring filmmakers to self-censor their works for reverence of running afoul of the Mainland. But with UK distributors 88 Films reissuing three of the below Category III highlights in August and September 2021, Hong Kong ’ second exploitation boom of the 90s, at least, remains commemorate .
Viewer discretion is advised. But as a uniquely bizarre and systematically hideous filmmaking movement – the likes that may never be witnessed again in Hong Kong – Category III exploitation movies remain the vertex of east asian extreme cinema. In 2021, this treasure treasure trove of midnight movie fury remains ripe for latent discovery – for the strong-stomached, at least .
Erotic Ghost Story, 1990
This mystic, charming narrative riffs on the diagram of fantasy-comedy The Witches of Eastwick. only alternatively of the idylls of Rhode Island, the three interfering maidens of erotic Ghost Story roam a rural, and rather more sordid greenwich village in pre-modern China .
Colourfully dressed and romantically tend, the sisterly trio spends much of the film pursuing a fine-looking young scholar who hides a awful mysterious. But first, a band of thugs are deceived as punishment for their severe ways : an early foreground finds the women canoodling in the forest, only for the golden men to on the spur of the moment realise that the women they are fornicating with are not beautiful youthful vixens, they ’ re creaky, rotting corpses ! From that here and now onwards, Erotic Ghost Story offers a overplus of aphrodisiac delirium involving camp superpowers, acrobatic beat-downs, and naked pulp .
The movie ’ s HK $ 10m box office success helped actress Amy Yip to become a Hong Kong sexual activity symbol, with her begrimed repute further cemented by exploitation flicks Robotrix and Sex and Zen ( the highest-grossing Category III movie in Hong Kong box function history ). Yip ’ randomness presence in the industry would be underlined by a classifiable bequest : the method acting of revealing the side of a woman ’ s breast in a television camera tear becoming known henceforth as the “ Yip tease. ” In Singapore, meanwhile, countless fast-food restaurants still sell “ Amy Yip bao ”, named for their epicurean size and easy, round determine .
always watched Robocop and thought “ this film needs much more sex ” ? Well, here ’ s the suffice .
A blatant and bright imitation of the Paul Verhoeven classic that besides liberally borrows set-pieces, characters and costumes from The Terminator, Robotrix concerns the rescue of a rich anoint baron ’ mho playboy son, who is kidnapped by a homicidal cyborg. His only hope ? Former babyminder and police matron Selina Lin – who was herself murdered by the malefic scientist-robot Ryuichi Yamamoto, entirely to have her consciousness transferred to a combat automaton in the servicing of the police force.
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This erotic Hong Kong sci-fi thriller is a acme of fad Category III filmmaking. It ’ s frequently jerry-built, relentlessly silly, and needlessly packed with arouse. The raunchier scenes range from the agitate ( at one point, Ryuichi Yamamoto-bot is observed to shag his victims to death ) to the hilarious – such as when a bull at a stakeout becomes so aroused he disguises himself as a whorehouse node in order to sleep with a automaton predict girl. But for all titillating cannon fodder, Robotrix is besides a mindlessly enjoyable frolic – full of harebrained competitiveness scenes, imaginatively balmy determined design, balmy performances and explosions .
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, 1991
possibly the greatest Hong Kong exploitation movie of all meter, Riki-Oh, was however a disappointment at the box office upon passing. But despite only grossing around one-fifth of what director Lam had accrued for erotic Ghost Story, this brutal prison dystopia would go on to achieve cult condition in the west, courtesy of viva-voce repute for its laughably bloodstained violence, extraordinary villains and atrocious dubbing into English .
In 2001 AD, as is revealed in the film ’ mho opening exposition, everything from car parks to prisons have become franchise businesses. The bare-bones, concrete monolith that houses the film ’ s titular Ricky – sentenced to ten years for the kill of a crime lord – has subsequently become split into four factions, with each prison unit violently keeping the others in check. What ensues across the film ’ s 91 minutes of mayhem, then, is a fever dream of crimson chaos : skull crushings, dumbbell traps and gut-rupturing punches included .
The midnight movie attract is best embodied by the character of Cyclops Dan, a hook-handed adjunct prison warden whose agency is lined with adult videos, and who keeps music to treat his fleshiness ( or, in the English dub, mints ) inside his methamphetamine eye. His bow-tied superior, simply named “ the Warden ”, on the other pass, resembles a frenzied, Hong Kong translation of Roger Rabbit ’ s Judge Doom .
The film ’ south creative and overblown fatalities, meanwhile, have a bequest of their own – as a note determine on the Mortal Kombat video recording game serial, with the nominal Ricky besides close resembling the combatant Liu Kang .
The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story, 1993
A team of police are led to a restaurant after a base of dismember limbs washes up on a beach shore. here, they learn that the former owner and his kin have all cryptically left the nation without a trace – while raw owner Wong Chi-hang ( Anthony Wong ) is accused of cheating at mah-jong to swindle his competitors out of cash. Could the two events be linked ? Yes, they could. Because, as is revealed in a series of disturbing flashbacks, Chi-hang butchered the distribute of them, and baked their cadavers into delightful char siu bao .
fabulously, this morally depraved narrative was not fabrication, but a real-life murder casing. And while the cannibalistic plat was taken from sensationalist rumours rather than fact, much of the narrative elsewhere remains unusually true to the real-life monstrosities committed upon a kin of ten in the Eight Immortals Restaurant in Macau, 1985 .
The psychotic lead character is played by Anthony Wong – “ the king of Category III films ” ( who, rather amazingly, walked off from the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1994 with the Best Actor pry in pass ). It would be the foremost of many for the actor, who subsequently became a basic of Hong Kong cinema after appearing opposite Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo ’ s Hard Boiled, and in Infernal Affairs ( late remade in the US by Martin Scorsese as The Departed, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson ).
Ebola Syndrome, 1996
After a rabid sex scene at the afford ends in a womanhood ’ s natural language being snipped off with scissors, consecutive raper and murderer Kai San ( Anthony Wong ), flees to South Africa, where he encounters an autochthonal kin after being threatened by a cheetah. An attack on one of the tribal women results in Kai San contracting Ebola – a virus that “ will gradually dissolve internal organs within 72 hours ” of infection ( though Kai San, for some reason, is immune ). He then proceeds to murder his employer at a restaurant, packaging the remains as “ African pork barrel bun ” as he becomes both viral super-spreader and Hong Kong Sweeney Todd .
Full of mindless arouse, misogyny, ferocity, and negative racial stereotypes, Ebola Syndrome makes for hideous viewing in more ways than one. consequently, when the movie was released on DVD in America, over 130 seconds of footage had to be cut – including 21 seconds of human autopsy and an gallop carry of Kai San being urinated on .
But the film remains a testament to director Herman Yau ’ s adamant ambitions as a film maker. 24 years and 60-odd films late, Yau ’ mho action thriller sequel Shock Wave 2 grossed a astonishing US $ 226.4 million worldwide, ending 2020 as one of the ten-spot highest-grossing films worldwide alongside the likes of Christopher Nolan ’ randomness Tenet .