Friday, August 19, 2011

The Untold Story (1993)

Brutal, yet goofy

This movie truly has an odd atmosphere with cheesy stock synthesizer music, mixed with goofy humor and then to contradict all that it includes brutal murder, sneaky cannibalism and a vicious rape. This opens up with a man getting his head smashed against a wall and burned alive from a heated gambling feud. The perpetrator changes his name and appearance and heads from Hong Kong to Macau. Fast forward eight years later to 1986, at the shore of a beach where severed arms and legs are found and detectives are called in to investigate. The film uses a framing technique that has a different tone on both sides, where you get to see somewhat silly plain clothes detectives fumbling around with evidence as if it's their first day on the job, and then on the other side the character Wong Chi Hang (Anthony Wong) seems like a dead-serious, manipulative and disturbing person that runs the Eight Immortals Restaurant. He cheats at gambling, tries to get a lawyer to break the law and then kills a worker on a whim for spreading rumors about him--a real class act. Since they don't waste anything in China, why should a killer, too? He starts to chop up the body and make barbeque "pork" buns with human meat as the secret ingredient for the patrons at the restaurant. "Hey fatso! You like the barbeque buns?" Wong asks a customer who responds back with glee: "Delicious! I can't stop eating them."

About the only technical crime work the cops do is get a clue from fingerprints from the severed arm at the beach that leads them to the restaurant. Unlike all these CSI type shows on TV in the modern day, this isn't going to be heavily or even moderately researched at that on the crime aspect. Wong worked at the restaurant prior and then apparently took it over by buying out the previous owner Cheng Lam. Currently a fearful woman has worked there for only two months and just thinks of him as a nasty boss. The head inspector isn't completely fooled by the charming man on the surface who feeds the rest of the detectives with his special barbeque buns. They stake him out and wait for a suspicious move. Soon enough he throws out evidence and they're on him just before he tries to flee. The latter half takes place in a prison and then a hospital where Wong gets beaten by inmates and then cops. Now, I'm not sure if there's a rivalry going on with the providences of Macau and Hong Kong, figuring this takes place in Macau but was financed and mostly shot in the HK. Similar to every other time a Japanese guy is in a Chinese film he's made to be entirely cruel or inferior. It seems a little past the point of poetic license as the supposed good guys here, being the Macau police, are made to be almost clueless at times, with not wanting to do their job at first, mistreating female coworkers to the point of harassment, the lead inspector taking credit for his underlings as well as being loose with prostitute-like dressed woman that he brings to work, and then instead of finding real clues they use brute tactics and manipulation to get him to confess.

Like some other Hong Kong films, "Untold Story"--aka "Human Pork Chop"--doesn't always stick to its genre type or smoothly blend the multiple tones together, so there might be some misplaced humor to an unaccustomed westerner. It's been like that since the day and age of chop socky, where a serious and violent duel will take place and the very next scene will be a slapstick one. With "Untold Story," it's hard to tell if you should be light heartedly laughing or afraid, or both at the same time. The tone is really that up in the air, and it seems that both directors had a different way they wanted to make it and compromised with both ways at once. Though what makes the experience different than the usual crime fare is you're not always sure who to root for. The bad guy is someone you'd never want to meet in person but yet you can't keep your eyes off of what he'll do next, even if it involves innocent people getting killed--give us more!

The cops aren't done a service here and are essentially written to lighten the load. They also fall kind of short on keeping the mystery and crime angle intriguing. Anthony Wong plays Mr. Wong with a totally changed persona if you've seen some of his other films. He portrays a degenerate who leeches off of other people in the most extreme sense and they make him entirely creepy while at it. When this movie gets down to the dirty stuff, it does deliver, whether it be with a cruel rape scene that doesn't involve the usual penetration but still the humiliation, to not hesitating when killing little children with blood spray to show for it. I remember first seeing this back on a grainy VHS tape, which made it even more sordid. Though the scenes with carnage are the main things that got seared into my head. When I picked it up on DVD and started to pay attention, some of the other things going on here aren't that memorable and as a result it's not something that thoroughly flows in the most gravitating order it could have when it comes to replay value. First time around: remembered for being horrific and unsettling. After that: you'll wish there was more to it on all fronts.

Rating: 6/10

Director: Danny Lee, Herman Yau
Stars: Anthony Wong, Danny Lee, Emily Kwan, Fui-On Shing
Link: IMDB

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