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“Chinese Torture Chamber” is a Category III film that stands out, not only as one of the genre’s most popular, but also as a genuine mainstream box office hit in its native Hong Kong. Boasting higher production values than the vast majority of similar efforts, the film is extremely hard to pigeonhole, covering everything from costume drama to surrealist fantasy, with diversions into martial arts, romance and even political commentary.
Of course, since this is a Category III film, the focus is on near pornographic sex and extreme violence, and the sheer variety and ingenuity of the nastiness on show is such that there really is something to offend everyone. Even the most jaded viewer will be left slack-jawed at the weirdness of some scenes and the film’s dedication to laying on a veritable catalogue of perversions.
Having said this, the film has an oddly nice natured core, and is at heart a moral story about the power of love and the corruption of power, albeit in a roundabout sort of way. Whatever your take on this highly entertaining piece of exploitation, it can at least hold the honor of being the only film to feature a masturbation-based parody of the loathsome Patrick Swayze vehicle “Ghost” in a scene that truly has to be seen to be believed. I guess we shouldn’t expect anything less from the ever prolific Wong Jing, producer of countless trash classics such as “Naked Killer” and “Raped by an Angel”.
The film starts with a young woman, the oddly named Little Cabbage (Yvonne Yung Hung, also in the classic “Ancient Chinese Whorehouse”) being discovered with the corpse of her husband, the unfortunate victim of an exploding penis incident. Little Cabbage and a young scholar (Lawrence Ng, “Sex and Zen”) she is accused of having an affair with are dragged before the judge and charged with murder by powerful aphrodisiac. To make them confess, the judge orders a variety of punishments and tortures, starting with some humiliating bare-ass spankings before escalating to fingernail pulling, bloody whippings, and worse. Unfortunately for the persecuted couple they are in fact the victims of a nefarious frame up. The real killers are the son of the judge and the scholar’s wife, who have been conducting a passionate affair as a result of the scholar’s sexual inadequacy. Will justice prevail?
It’s kind of hard to know where to start, or how to do justice to the chaotic roller coaster ride that is “Chinese Torture Chamber”. The film is a barrage of barely connected scenes of surreal sex and violence mostly told through flashback. The story lurches around from set piece to set piece, with narrative events blatantly being written around the increasingly high concept money shots that seem to be striving to out do each other in terms of bad taste. I won’t go into too much detail, but a perfect example would be a long sequence where the scholar goes on a journey through a forest, only to run into two heroes who engage in a long bout of flying sex, complete with appropriately named martial arts moves such as ‘invincible tongue’ and ‘wonder screw’. This scene is packed with wirework, slow motion shots, several gallons of ejaculate, and of course Elvis Tsui, who has the market pretty much covered in this kind of role.
The above scene pretty much sums up the lunacy of “Chinese Torture Chamber”. The film moves at break neck speed, as director Bosco Lam (“The Underground Banker”) throws in the action without any regard for logic or coherence. There is no discernable tone, and the film is one minute oddly touching, the next attempting to be erotic, before hurtling into an extended scene of bloody torture. It’s all very entertaining, never boring and done with a great deal of humor. And though almost all of it is either incomprehensible or strictly lowbrow (half the jokes are about the penis size of Little Cabbage’s husband), it keeps the film free from the nihilistic hatred that taints so many Category III films.
The cast looks like they are having a lot of fun, or at least like they aren’t taking the whole thing too seriously. Elvis Tsui in particular is hilarious, and his scenes are the film’s most memorable. The rest of the cast is also pretty good given the material, especially Yvonne Yung Hung and Lawrence Ng, both of whom generate a fair bit of sympathy as the innocent and genuinely likable couple.
“Chinese Torture Chamber” is definitely one of the best in the Category III genre, and though that in itself may be enough for some viewers to steer clear, it’s actually a very entertaining and wild piece of cinema that is in many ways uniquely Hong Kong. No other country would ever produce a film like this, and on that alone it perhaps deserves interest from the casual viewer. For fans of exploitation film, this is essential viewing, a guilt-free pleasure that will restore your faith that there are some truly great Category III films out there.
Bosco Lam (director) / Cheuk Bing (screenplay)
CAST: Julie Lee …. Ki Dan-Fung
Siu-Kei Lee …. Supreme Court Judge
Ching Mai …. Scholar’s wife
Lawrence Ng Kai-Wah …. Scholar – Yeung Naai Miu
Elvis Tsui …. Win Chung-Lung
Kwong Leung Wong …. Got Siu-Tai