This is fifth installment in our Guide To Hong Kong Category III Shockers series, catch up on the first four installments right here.
"If we accept that patricide and infanticide in Category III horror become nearly indistinguishable themes, then beneath Category III's unrepressed sadism and much-discussed 'anxiety' lurks the optimistic hope that former colony and fatherland may confusedly coexist." –Category III scholar Andrew Grossman-
"The cruelty and raw misogyny of these films is really alarming; they would cause an uproar in the West were they accessible 'above ground.'" –Category III experts Darrell W. Davis and Yeh Yueh-Yu
"If I cut off your arms and cut off your legs, would you still love me anyway?" –The Misfits' Michael Graves, "Helena 2" (2001)
The Hong Kong cops face a public outcry in the 1975 crime melodrama Big Brother Cheng. Big Brother Cheng was a sequel to the 1974 box office hit The Tea House, and like that movie, it was produced by the Shaw Brothers and helmed by the formative, "socially realistic" exploiteer Chih-hung Kuei. Crime is on the rise in Big Brother Cheng, during an interview with an unnamed television news reporter (Lau Luk-Wah), police officer Xu (Lin Tung) assures Hong Kong residents that "the average number of crimes doesn't exceed 100 cases each month." Kuei then cuts to the bloodied face of Zhen (Siu Yam-Yam), a rape victim, as she's being violated by a group of thugs.
Back to Xu: "Even in the most densely-populated area, it doesn't exceed twelve cases each day." Then we see one of Zhen's attackers as he looks down on her. He slowly unzips.
"A case happened every 2 hours," Xu continues. "A citizen becoming a target of a crime is 1 out of 38,000. Among 38,000 citizens, only one of them will be a victim." Now we see Zhen silently scream as Xu's voice echoes on the soundtrack.
Lau's reporter asks Xu to comment on the rising "rape and harassment cases against women." Xu remains unbothered. "The growth rate, to compare with the population here, and other major cities, well, the crime rate here is relatively very low." "Not too bad," he concludes. "We've tried our best."
In 1992, British criminology expert Jon Vagg reported that, according to victimization surveys from 1978-1989, "the crime rate for property offenses and violent crimes [in Hong Kong] probably dropped substantially in the mid-to-late 1980s." He notes that "the increase in recorded crime rates" is simply because of "an increase in the rate of reporting." So in his report, Vagg mostly focuses on smuggling in Hong Kong and a rise in immigration from mainland China, which he also blames for an influx of illegal guns.
Vagg notes that the "root causes" for these relatively non-violent crimes is "the remarkable economic discrepancy between [mainland China] and Hong Kong." Because there were more economic opportunities in Hong Kong for mainland immigrants than there was in continental China, which provided "a powerful incentive for immigration" despite "disincentives" like a fifteen-month prison sentence for illegal immigrants found working in Hong Kong.
In 1993, the true crime-style chiller Daughter of Darkness was a box office and tabloid-friendly sensation, grossing about $13.2 million HKD (after inflation, about $3.16 million USD today). Daughter of Darkness follows a grisly case of multiple homicides where the killer is also a victim of domestic abuse. Fong (Lily Chung), a mainland Chinese teenager, kills her entire family, including her violent step-father Mak, cruel mother, and indifferent siblings. Fong tells her story through a series of flashbacks while she's interrogated by Lui, Anthony Wong's oafish glory-hound of a mainland cop, and Dong Huan (Money Lo), Lui's diligent apprentice.
Enabled by their family members, Mak, an impotent drunk, rapes Fong. Fong's sister (Monica Lo) hates her; she steals Fong's compact because it's too good for Fong. And Mrs. Mak knows all about her husband's incestuous affair: "I don't care what you do out there, I can pretend not to know. But how can you fuck your daughter?" The Maks' Chinese neighbors also know all about Fong's mom: one neighbor gossips that Mrs. Mak is a "flirt" who's "even very easy with the Northerners."
As for Mr. Mak—he gets drunk and rapes Fong on his birthday, smearing his daughter with birthday cake after he ties her up. He also pours beer on Fong and violates her while singing "Row, row, row your boat." Mak even impregnates Fong. Later on, Fong retaliates by fatally stabbing Mak in the neck with a statue of General Guan Gong, a standard decorative piece of Confucian home décor meant to ward off evil spirits from outside the home.
The ironic nature of Fong's weapon is not subtle, nor is it meant to be. ("You're not my papa! You're a beast!") For proof, see Lui and Dong's investigation, which establishes a direct parallel between mainland authority figures and the community members whose crimes they either ignore or rubber-stamp. In a telling exchange, Lui advises Fong that she should just close her bedroom door if she doesn't want to be peeped on. "No need to kill them all," he suggests. But please, "go on" with your story.
Dong's not much better: she intimidates Fong's neighbors into providing information by pretending to brutalize Kin (Hugo Ng), a fellow officer and Fong's boyfriend. Kin emerges from an "interrogation" with Dong with fake injuries, which he wipes away with toilet paper. The assembled crowd eats up this miniature spectacle. "We, people, must cooperate with the cops," yelps one of Fong's impressionable neighbors. "How else to get rid of the black sheep?"
Daughter of Darkness was successful enough to warrant an underwhelming and narratively unrelated 1994 sequel, also starring William Ho as a rapist. Later that year, Hongkongers were graced with Brother of Darkness, an unrelated pot-boiler featuring both Ho and Ng as principal cast members. In Brother of Darkness, "Bullshit" Wah (Ho) is murdered by his adopted brother Toh (Ng), whose actions are basically justified through a series of flashbacks. Wah lives with his terrified parents, snorts cocaine, rapes Toh's girlfriend Jenny (Lily Chung), and punches Toh in the crotch so hard that he renders the poor man impotent. Bullshit Wah had it coming, in other words. And in real life, Hong Kong moviegoers agreed: Brother of Darkness grossed $9.5 million HKD during its initial theatrical release ($2.08 million USD today).
Brother of Darkness and Daughter of Darkness are mainly united by their focus on rape and sexual violence, though a common concern with abusive and/or negligent community and family members also connects them. Rape was also a common plot device and selling point in the Category III umbrella genre, partly because many Category III films were explicitly sold and designed as pornography.
More than a few of these thrillers play out like horror movies whose tone and emphasis has been shifted and warped to make them more palatably sensational. Because while sex and pornography sold well in Hong Kong during the 1990s, there was no thriving market for straightforward, non-comedic horror movies. "Horror films are very hard to make because scaring people is not easy anymore," says Gilbert Po in a recent interview featured on Unearthed Classics' Dr. Lamb blu-ray. (Po is credited with inspiring Dr. Lamb producer Danny Lee to make that movie)
Sexual violence was a fixture of Category III movies ranging from Her Vengeance, a decent remake of the 1973 Shaw Brothers rape-revenge drama Kiss of Death, to Robotrix, a deranged RoboCop ripoff starring two crime-fighting lady robots (Chikako Aoyama and Amy Yip), who go after Billy Chow's musclebound Japanese cyborg rapist. It doesn't make much more sense in context.
In most cases, Category III producers set the pace and slavishly extended short-lived trends, like Chua Lam, who produced both Her Vengeance and Robotrix. Category III expert Arnaud Lanuque calls Lam "the connecting personality" between the Shaw Brothers' sexploitation movies of the 1970s and the Category III boom of the 1990s: (1) "He had an eye for starlets who were ready to shed their clothes."
Other producers, like the trend-chasing Wong Jing, were even more shameless. Wong's voluminous producer credits include the Category III thriller Raped By An Angel and its four sequels, only one of which was rated Category III: Raped By An Angel 4: The Rapist's Union, which Wong directed himself. In Raped By An Angel, Category III villain Mark Cheng plays a respectable lawyer who violates his girlfriend (Chingmy Yau, Wong's real-life girlfriend at the time); to catch a predator, Chau must team up with her good guy triad gangster boyfriend (Simon Yam, of course). And in Raped by an Angel 4, a trio of rapists puts their heads together for a sleazy team-up, like they're the Category III version of the Sinister Six, except there's no Spider-Man here, only more sexual violence. "I just give to the people what they want to see," Wong told Sévéon. (2) "My tastes never intervene in these choices."
Speaking of non-interventionist tastes: Run and Kill director Billy Tang notably helmed the tepid Category IIB franchise capper Raped By An Angel 5: The Final Judgment. Tang also directed three episodes of the ATV-produced television series Hong Kong Criminal Archives and is a credited producer on Female Butcher, the Hong Kong Criminal Archives episode that introduced Hongkongers to Simon Yam's Dr. Lamb character. After that, Tang directed both Brother of Darkness and the rape-centric horror-thriller Red to Kill, both of which were put together by Daughter of Darkness producer Kimmy Suen. In Red to Kill, Lily Chung's developmentally delayed dancer is stalked and violated by Ben Ng, a serial rapist. (Ng is also one of the rapists in Raped by An Angel 4) Honey Lo, playing a concerned social worker, tries to help Chung's character recover from her trauma, but Ng eventually returns for his victim. "I'm going to fuck you to death," he snarls before chasing after Chung with a sledgehammer.
Red to Kill may be one of the most disturbing Category III shockers, partly because of its volatile mix of generic exploitation elements. Even Tang admits that Red to Kill "goes too far." Chung's character is the movie's main protagonist, and while she is predictably avenged by the film's end, her brutalized character also doesn't get to enjoy her revenge. In real life, Chung was uncomfortable being naked in front of the camera; Tang tried and apparently failed to talk Suen out of filming her nude scenes.
It's worth noting that even a Category III authority like Mike Leeder is convinced that Tang was not concerned with the 1997 handover when he made Red to Kill. (3) Tang says otherwise in a conversation with Sévéon, who notes that with Red to Kill, Tang seems more dedicated than usual to shocking his audience. "Maybe at this moment I didn't have any hope for my future or Hong Kong," Tang responds. Sévéon then asks Tang if he was thinking about 1997. "Yes," Tang says. "In my eyes, the character of Ben Ng is so strong and the two women are so weak that this creates an insurmountable situation. There's no exit door." (10) Red to Kill was the final Category III movie for both Suen and Tang, but not Chung.
Category III movies conformed to certain formulas and tropes; some minor variations and exceptions only proved that general rule. Actress Julie Lee also produced, scripted, and co-directed Trilogy of Lust II. This sexploitation anthology movie features a black widow-style lady predator (also Lee) who, after being raped by her uncle, now seduces and murders unsuspecting men. Trilogy of Lust II complements the Wong-produced Indecent Woman, which follows Yeung Fan, who plots to kill her husband (Charlie Cho) after she discovers that he offered her sexual services to his business partner.
There are also a few Category III thrillers where male rapists' obsessive behavior is essentially justified by the plot's events, as in Can't Stop My Crazy Love for You and Forbidden Love. The latter follows Cindy Yip's investigative reporter as she pursues and then falls for a predator (Foo Wai-kei) who poses as a film producer. A rape also notably kicks off Pretty Woman, where Veronica Yip plays two roles, a secretary who's raped and murdered by her boss (Alex Fong) and her identical replacement, who then falls in love with Fong. Pretty Woman is a deeply confused pornographic romantic drama, much like Severely Rape, which thankfully does not live up to its evocative title.
Rape and the threat of sexual violence still linger in more recent Category III films. Kate (Miki Cheung), a fifteen-year-old rape victim, seeks an abortion and meets a ruthless monster in Dumplings, Fruit Chan's contribution to the otherwise toothless horror anthology Three…Extremes. In Chan's movie, Kate seeks help from Bai Ling's monstrous abortionist, who chops up and cooks aborted fetuses into, you guessed it, dumplings, which she eats, sells, and boasts about, given their mysteriously rejuvenating properties.
Somehow, Bai's character does not reflect a clear pro-life stance, but rather Chan's self-lacerating view of Hongkongers and their neurotic self-regard. Because Kate still needs help, regardless of Bai's character, since Kate was raped by her father—and her mother (Wong Siu-foon) knows it. ("My husband is probably with some young girl right now") Chan re-imagines Hong Kong as a "house, not a home," as Kate's mom puts it, making Dumplings an exemplary latter-day Category III pic.
Next time: Part VI, the final installment.