“Dr. Lamb” is a classic of the category III genre, and one of its most influential, trailblazing films, which helped establish the template that so many of the subsequent rip offs would slavishly adhere to. Released shortly before the genre’s defining moment, “The Untold Story”, the two films are actually very similar, being ‘true crime’ thrillers which exploit gruesome Hong Kong murder cases. “Dr. Lamb” focuses on a real 1982 series of killings by a night shift taxi driver, in which a number of women were murdered and their bodies subjected to hideous port-mortem abuses.
Despite the title, the killer is not in fact a doctor, and was actually called ‘Lam’, which was the film’s original title, probably having been altered to infer the inclusion of cannibalism. Although the film is free from this particular practice, it is undoubtedly one of the genre’s more extreme, containing a great deal of nudity, murder, mutilation, and a decidedly unhealthy dose of necrophilia. Such content cannot come as a big surprise, given that the film was co-directed by the notorious Billy Tang, responsible for the memorable category III atrocities “Red to Kill” and “Brother of Darkness” amongst others.
As expected, Tang exploits the lurid details of the story to their full extent, leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to shock the viewer, resulting in a barrage of bad taste that fell foul of censors both in Hong Kong and internationally. However, perverse sex and gore aside, “Dr. Lamb” is actually a very good film, is tautly directed, morbidly fascinating and carries an impact that will stay with the viewer for days.
After a prologue in which a young boy is punished for peeping on his parents while they are having sex, the plot proper begins as the Hong Kong police are alerted to some pornographic photographs featuring women who look suspiciously like they are dead. Led by Inspector Li (Danny Lee, who also co-directed and whom viewers will recognize from “The Untold Story” and John Woo’s “The Killer”), the police investigate, linking the women in the photographs to a series of unsolved murders and missing person cases.
The police arrest the owner of the photographs, a shy, quiet night shift taxi driver named Lam (Simon Yam, one of the greatest stars of Hong Kong cinema, who graduated from playing the psycho in low budget films like “Insanity” to mainstream roles such as the recent “Explosive City”) who happens to have been charged with molestation in the past. When Lam refuses to say a word, despite being battered by police, they haul in his whole family and try to force them to wring a confession out of him. Eventually, Lam flips out in spectacular fashion and relates the whole shocking story to the police, sparing them none of the horrifying details of his crimes, which he sees as a moralistic service he has been providing — that is, ridding the city of filth.
The plot is almost identical to that of “The Untold Story”, and in fact the two films share the same screenwriter in Law Kam Fai. In both movies, Fai shocks not only through the actions of the maniac, but by displaying the brutal tactics of the police employed in their ‘interrogations’. In “Dr. Lamb”, the police are not portrayed as being quite so bumbling, but are every bit as vicious, using hammers to beat and leather belts to whip Lam into confessing, and are not above threatening the innocent members of his family to gain leverage. This critical treatment of the authorities gives the film a very nihilistic feel, as it makes the film devoid of positive or indeed particularly likable characters.
“Lamb” and “Story” are also similar in that both have virtually identical casts. Danny Lee plays basically the same role in both (though in “Dr. Lamb” he is without his entourage of prostitutes), and is accompanied by the same bunch of incompetent police lackeys. The narratives unfold in exactly the same way, and both rely on the audience’s morbid desire to learn the gory details of the crimes in order to generate tension. Tang and Lee do this very effectively, and the film is built skillfully, the shocks growing in intensity and frequency until the traditional climax, which contains some truly sickening acts of perversity. The direction in general is of a high standard, especially in comparison to other category III films.
Although Hong Kong is portrayed as the usual neon jungle, the dark landscape of its nightlife is effectively employed to give a real sense of Lam as a predator, hunting, as he sees it, in a barren moral wasteland. The film is very gory, even by the standards of the genre, though very little of it is gratuitous. All of the murder scenes are brief strangulations, with the mutilations and dismemberments occurring after death. This does involve some outstandingly unpleasant sequences of Lam hacking away at the corpses with scalpels and power tools, including the frenzied slicing of one mercifully dead woman’s breasts (this scene is shortened in the cut version).
Similarly, the high quotient of nudity is never played for titillation, given that most of it occurs after the women are dead, and in the very disturbing context of Lam’s necrophiliac tendencies. The film takes things even further by adding Lam’s molestation and photographing of his young niece to his crimes, which truly ranks him amongst the most loathsome and frightening villains in Hong Kong cinema. “Dr. Lamb” does lighten the mood with some rather grotesque humor, including what has to be one of the most nauseating examples of slapstick ever, in which a hacked off breast is tossed around for laughs. Thankfully, these scenes are not too frequent, and do not upset the downbeat tone of the proceedings, though they do sit quite uncomfortably next to the horror.
Just as Anthony Wong was central to the success of “The Untold Story”, Simon Lam carries “Dr. Lamb” on his shoulders with his excellent performance. He is genuinely creepy and convincing as a man who switches from being polite and mild mannered, to a howling, wide-eyed monster that cannot control his bestial instincts. Fai’s script gives the character a fair amount of depth, and though there is only a token gesture to actually explain his actions, he is treated as a person, albeit an evil one, rather than a pantomime psychopath, and is all the more believable and chilling for it.
All of this gives “Dr. Lamb” a grounded centre and the feel of a real story, differentiating it from the vast majority of sex and violence obsessed films which claim to follow its example. Although it is unquestionably exploitative, and its gore is its main reason for its existence, the film is nevertheless well made and exciting in a sick sort of way, and makes an interesting, disturbing point about the methods of the Hong Kong police that is almost as horrifying as the crimes of its central character. Though it is obviously not for all viewers, for those willing to witness the depths of human depravity, “Dr. Lamb” provides a wild, intense ride.
Danny Lee, Hin Sing ‘Billy’ Tang (director) / Law Kam Fai (screenplay)
CAST: Danny Lee …. Inspector Lee
Simon Yam …. Lam Gor-Yu
Kent Cheng …. Fat Bing