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Hong Kong's Category III is the US equivalent of NC-17 and for several reasons always peaked my interests. In particular the way it categorizes the campy, over the top "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky" in the same vein as "Mad Detective" which doesn't remotely come close to containing the same amount of graphic content. In the end though it doesn't matter if the film content lives up the rating, but rather if it a good piece of filmmaking. For the case of "The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story" it is even if noticeably sloppy in execution.
The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold is about cops investigation on a criminal running an unsuspecting restaurant, while trying to trace the steps back to how he ended up running it suddenly. The film jumps between the cops investigation and the criminal mastermind, Wong Chi Hang, to tell its story. Early on in the film it opens immediately with a murder only to then introduce the cops who are portrayed as bumbling idiots for comedic effect. Often the humor plays off the cops inability to gather evidence because of the bad smell or the womanizing inspector who always brings a new lady with him to the station. These early comedic scenes don't mesh well when the film makes a turn for the grisly for a majority of its run. Tonally all it's all over the place as one moment you're possibly laughing at the cops investigation lack of professionalism to then suddenly cut to the next scene of murder. Whether or not it wants the audience the sympathize for the killer is left to the viewer to decide. Once Wong is capture it's not the end of the film, but rather it continues to show at length the cops are willing to lock up Wong Chi Hang behind bars. Utilizing other methods that doesn't require breaking bones. Asking yourself if the means to send Wong Chi Hang behind bars is justified by the officers given the extreme torture applied to Wong Chi Hang while taking into account what he did. Despite how often it jumps tones it position by the end of the film ends amorally. Neither condemning Wong Chi Hang for his killings or rewarding the cops methods to crack the case by any means. While the who in the mystery is always clear the background and motivation are elements that the film works for. Building up gradually the mystery of what exactly happened at this restaurant to a grisly reveal in its most infamous scene. There's no cat and mouse game and the unraveling mystery that is Wong Chi Hang keeps it interesting. Wong Chi Hang is an interesting criminal mind and one with a troubled mindset in twisted way will keep you watching.
Anthony Wong is outstanding as the enigmatic Wong Chi Hang capturing so well the traits of this unbalanced psychotic character that he comes across as truly a demented person. He's best in full on psychotic in the moments of killing a victim displaying joy with his grievous voice. However, Wong movement also tells us he's not an expert struggling to some degree, but his eyes cold stare makes him comes across as demented even in daylight without a weapon. When Wong is captured he comes across as a broken human unable to stand up straight in his mannerism changing to his beaten state. The performance of Anthony Wong is noteworthy alone for a viewing. Supporting cast largely go unnoticed because their interpretation is direct what of the material demand. This is not good for the supporting cast since a majority of them have trouble transitioning to the darker side of the material. Often allowing them a moment to react silly in a serious moment. Danny Lee is the exception in the supporting cast being able to make a successful transition into the material darker side. Lee does come across as a womanizer on the silly side, but also comes across as a devoted inspector. As for the violence it's deserving of the Category III (NC-17 in the US) rating. While generally not showing the impact of a kill there is plenty of gore, foreboding atmosphere, blood, and Anthony Wong successful portrayal that these murders scenes are wholly effective. On the down side despite how well done the special effects are and the way the murder are shot they are unevenly spread across the film. There's three in the first act and one more in the final twenty minute involving children. There might be a light supply of murder on screen, but the execution of them more than makes up for it.
The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story tone is unbalanced as the film's criminal mind, yet it's that same unbalanced nature that makes it appealing. While the comedy fails to fit in with the rest of the film never does any of it issues overshadow it bright spot. The way it tells it story works well enough due to it twisted criminal and held together by Anthony Wong spectacular performance.
Based on a true story claim:
I was unable to find any evidence or articles that prove the events in the film did occur. However, after doing a bit of lazy research (yay, reading about murders) and the closest source I could find as a possible inspiration is Fritz Haarmann. A German serial killer who is believed to have been responsible for the murder of 27 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924. Always with a view to his commercial instincts, the body of his victims would then be dismembered and the clothes and meat sold through the usual channels for smuggled goods. The useless portions were thrown into the River Leine. Due to Haarmann victims being runaways and his successful distribution the British police had a hard time finding any concrete evidence to crack the case. As the number of missing boys mounted, police suspicion began to fall on Haarmann. A woman who had purchased one of his black-market "steaks" became convinced it was human flesh and turned it over to the police. In the summer of 1924, several skulls and a sackful of bones were found on the banks of the canal. While searching Haarmann's rooms, detectives found bundles of boys' clothing. The landlady's son was wearing a coat--given to him by Haarmann--that belonged to one of the missing boys. In the end, Haarmann confessed his crimes in minute detail, proclaiming insanity but declaring he was forced to commit the crimes whilst in a trance. He was convicted, found guilty of 24 murders and subsequently sentenced to execution in April, 1925. While awaiting execution, the "Vampire of Hanover" (as he'd been dubbed by the press) produced a written confession in which he described, with undisguised relish, the pleasure he had derived from his atrocities. At his own request, he was beheaded with a sword in the city marketplace, ironically one of the most common and effective ways to dispose of a vampire. Afterward, his brain was removed from his skull and shipped to Goettingen University for study. Unfortunately, nothing came of this effort. Over seventy years later, science is still no closer to comprehending the reasoning behind the crimes committed by people like Fritz Haarmann. Or maybe it could the fact that Fritz Haarmann was just plain insane without a particular motivator.
The Untold Story is one of those nasty flicks that most horror fans whisper about, or have heard of, but because of its ridiculous premise, foreign nature, and Category III rating (the Hong Kong version of X or NC-17 in U.S.A), most of us have rarely gone out of our way to see it. Or if you?re like me, you made the mistake of getting a hold of the second one before the first film and, consequently, never wanted to see the first film because of the shit nature of the sequel. The Untold Story, despite all of the odds that are stacked up against it, deserves to be mentioned right up there with the heavies of the serial killer genre. Sure, it?s cheaper, more brutal, and quirkier than something like Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, but its originality, coupled with the fact that the film is based on a true story, packs those deficiencies in a delicious barbecue pork bun and washes it down with liberal doses of urine and feces laced gore.
The film follows the story of Wong Chi Hang, a notorious serial killer in 1970?s Macau. Wong Chi Hang has three loves in life, gambling, killing, and grinding up corpses to serve as tasty meat filling in his delicious barbecue pork buns. Chi Hang, a criminal wanted for murder after killing someone in another part of China, flees to Macau, where he unceremoniously becomes the owner of a restaurant entitled The Eight Immortals. The restaurant?s original owner has disappeared along with his family? it doesn?t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened to them. The cops are soon on his tail, led by the prostitute courting Officer Lee, a tomboy female cop trying to get the attention of her co-pigs, and a couple of other generic silly cops.
One of the major problems with the film is that it is so uneven. For a movie about a dude who kills the fuck out of people and grinds them into dumpling filling, the movie feels ridiculously light as the group of cops engages in Police Academy style hijinks and banter. They eventually tone it down a little bit, but it?s kind of an odd decision to make to inject a little humor in what is clearly a dark story. I don?t know what to be more disturbed by, the lighthearted approach the co-directors took with the film or the disgusting and over the top brutality with which Wong Chi Hang dispatches his mostly undeserving victims.
The other huge problem with the film is how poorly it is put together. The film?s entire crux relies on the fact that there is an ?untold story? somewhere in the film. The untold story is of course what happened to the original owner of the restaurant and his family. The last half hour to thirty minutes of the film focuses on the cops? efforts to figure out exactly what happened to the family? even though they?ve got a sack full of body parts that screams ?missing family? sitting in their evidence locker. The ideas behind the structure and form of the film are off. Instead of taking the true crime direction, the directors turn the film into a Shakespearian like tragedy where the big payoff is one hellacious slaughter and the reveal to the police that they have in fact eaten the remains of humans. This all may seem like spoiler material, but any five year old that has ever seen a horror flick would be able to guess all of this stuff and it?s basically thrown in your face during the film. The Untold Story deserves credit for trying to take a non-traditional approach to the serial killer flick, but it?s light-hearted tactics leave a little to be desired.
The two directors, Danny Lee and Herman Yau, make some pretty solid decisions throughout the film, if you throw out some of the Police Academy type vibe that?s going on with the detectives? seriously I expected to see the Hong Kong version of Michael Winslow to pop up and start making annoying sound effects. The scenes that focus on the serial killer are solid, menacing, and intense as fuck. It?s a shame they shit in their bed and roll around in it by getting too experimental with the tone. There is a lull in the middle of the film, after the serial killer is arrested, and the film?s torture sequence where the cops try to pry information out of Wong feels a little drawn out, but the rest of the film flows rather nicely.
The gore and the brutality is what this film is famous for, and for good reason. You?ve got your over the top rape and murder scene, you?ve got your crazy human butchering montage, and quite possibly the world?s worst and most brutal family massacre scene. The gore and the special effects are all laid out with a reverent flair that is disturbing and pulls no punches. If I liked children, I might have been tempted to turn the film off near the end, instead of laugh insanely. Good stuff.
The Untold Story has some major flaws, but the sheer ballsiness of the flick is enough to counterbalance the good against the bad, creating a delicious Hong Kong classic that is unlike any movie out there. The film?s complete lack of sensitivity to people that may have actually been killed in this true crime tale is appalling, but who gives a damn? It looks cooler than a pile of used profos, gives your stomach a couple twists, and sticks in the memory like that time you played hide and seek with your naked Scoutmaster at the annual Boy Scouts overnight campout.
Final Synopsis: This movie is only for the diehard horror fans out there, as it may be a little over the top and odd for the more casual fans. It?s a great flick that pulls no punches and delivers on the gore without wimping out in typical bullshit cinema-style. Give it a rent, or buy a copy if you?re a sick fuck. Like I am.
Points Lost: -1 for trying to combine Police Academy with Se7en tonally, -1 for a lame approach at telling the story; there?s no real mystery here, so stop pretending like there is one
Lesson Learned: The best recipe for barbecue pork buns includes urine, poop in a bucket, and human bodies ground into filling. Enjoy.
Burning Question: Why is it so fucking hard to find information on foreign serial killers? excluding the lame British serial killers?
The Untold Story.
Enoy and keep a bag next to you.
A nasty looking film that should make you very uncomfortable. The ending will have you reaching for the 'stop' button.
Nasty, mean-spirited movie with a great lead perfomance by Anthony Wong. A Cat III classic.
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