Secret agent 999 (Norman Tsui Siu-Keung, in a rare good guy role) arrives on a remote island in pursuit of missing master criminal Rolex (Melvin Wong). What he doesn’t know is the island holds a town full of cackling cannibals, led by the psychotic Chief of Police (Eddie Ko). Barely escaping the local slaughterhouse, the kung fu skilled, but rather dim 999 is approached by Rolex, who proposes an alliance to overthrow the chief. But when that plan goes awry, 999 and another newcomer, a small-time thief (Hon Kwok-Choi), are forced to flee hordes of hungry flesh-eaters (“Fresh meat! Fresh meat!”).
Frenetic editing and camerawork mix splatter, slapstick and mad martial arts choreographed by Corey Yuen Kwai (director of too many great kung fu flicks to list) to often impressive effect. However, the non-stop barrage of chases, hair-raising close calls and near-death escapes - a structure obviously indebted to Texas Chain Saw Massacre - grows tiresome and repetitive. Some critics interpret the film as an allegory about communism, even though the dog-eat-dog philosophy espoused by the cannibal crazies is a lot closer to capitalism gone mad. Typically for a Tsui Hark film, characters frequently espouse personal philosophies trying to make sense of an often chaotic universe. Still, one senses the filmmaker, smarting from criticism that The Butterfly Murders flopped because it was over-intellectual (it has since been listed among the one hundred greatest Chinese films of all time), was striving for something purely visceral.
A gruesome opener features a cameo from the talented editor/writer/director/actor David Wu as one of two unfortunate travellers who wind up cleaved messily in half with a rusty saw. Instead of Leatherface our heroes flee dozens of metal masked, cleaver wielding cannibal killers in action scenes equal parts Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Tom & Jerry. Gorehounds will be kept happy, but amidst the lunacy the various plot threads never really go anywhere. Which might be the point, but remains unsatisfying. Hark weaves in subplots concerning the chief’s disaffected girlfriend who develops an amorous interest in 999, plus a gigantic transvestite out to sexually molest the heroes. The cannibals are played by an array of veteran comic character actors, cast for their goofy looks - a point Hark underlines in the opening credits that play over a collection of cartoon grotesques.
Although essentially humorous, the film can turn on a dime and offer some genuinely disturbing episodes, which leaves it worth watching for fans of Hong Kong horror and Hark’s distinctive “everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” style of filmmaking. For the climax he serves up a crazed smorgasbord involving roller-skating kung fu, firecrackers and a spoof references to Peking Opera, Wong Fei Hung and Abraham Lincoln. Figure that out.
Hong Kong director, producer, writer and actor and one of the most important figures in modern Hong Kong cinema. Hark majored in film in the US, before returning to his homeland to work in television. Made his directing debut in 1979 with the horror thriller The Butterfly Murders, while 1983's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain was a spectacular ghost fantasy quite unlike anything in HK cinema at the time. Other key films of this period include Shanghai Blues and the brilliant Peking Opera Blues.
Like many Hong Kong directors, Hark gave Hollywood a go in the late nineties and directed Jean-Claude Van Damme in Double Team and Knock Off. He returned home soon after to continue directing and producing movies like Time and Tide, the epic effects-fest Legend of Zu and romantic adventure Seven Swords.