Ebola Syndrome (1996) Movie Review

Even within the most dependable bastion of bad taste known as the category III genre of Hong Kong cinema, there are a few films which stand out as having a reputation for being truly offensive. “Ebola Syndrome” is one of the most notorious examples of this, a film with enough nauseating violence and sleazy depravity to make its script read like a sadist’s shopping list. Coming across like a demented mixture of the 1995 Hollywood hit “Outbreak” and the category III classic “The Untold Story”, “Ebola” goes above and beyond the call of duty in delivering repulsive shocks, including graphic scenes of cannibalism, dismemberment, rape, and that old favorite of perverts everywhere, golden showers.

As unbelievable as it may sound, veteran director Herman Yau’s film is actually a comedy, albeit a very, very sick one, which only those with cast iron stomachs and loose sensibilities are liable to find funny. Despite, or perhaps due to the torrent of non-stop atrocities on screen, the film is far too ridiculous to be taken seriously, and everyone involved seems to have had a great deal of fun challenging the viewer’s sense of morality, with a sly wink and their tongues placed firmly in their cheeks. At the end of the day, it’s pretty hard not to crack a smile at a film which has scenes of genre king Anthony Wong, again playing a drooling psychotic, on the run in the wilds of Africa trying to hold up his trousers while being chased by a leopard.

Even if such delights are not enough, the film as a whole is well paced and packed full of dubious action, making it a must see for any fan of extreme cinema. The plot plays fairly close to the traditional category III ‘true crime’ template, with a murderous madman named Kai (Wong) killing the owner of the restaurant he works in, takes over and sells his victims’ remains to customers in the form of hamburgers. The sick twist here is that much of the action takes place in South Africa, where the killer rapes a Zulu girl who is infected with the deadly Ebola virus, for which he becomes a carrier. Immune himself, Kai spreads the disease to his customers and a number of other unfortunates before fleeing back to Hong Kong after the police come calling. Back home, Kai attempts to live the high life on the proceeds of his crimes, until the trail of carnage he left behind catches up with him, leading to a crazed, bloody rampage.

“Ebola Syndrome” is admittedly a hard film to justify as entertainment for people who find category III cinema in general morally reprehensible, though for those who care, there is a great deal to enjoy here. As well as the usual series of pointless, decidedly unerotic sex scenes (half of which feature Anthony Wong insisting on oral stimulation and seem to be played for comedic value), the film boasts a formidable amount of visceral content. In terms of gore, there are stabbings, decapitations, and some inventive uses of kitchen equipment, all of which are sure to satiate the hungriest of gore-hounds. The Ebola angle itself is exploited to the full, with a great number of disgusting scenes, including autopsies and unfortunate victims in varying stages of infection.

Although the above may sound unspeakably unpleasant, the film never comes close to the shocking impact of “The Untold Story” or “Dr. Lamb”, and is instead quite light hearted and fun, in a gleefully gonzo fashion. It is fair to say that to a degree this may not be wholly intentional, as many of the scenes in South Africa feature some hilariously bad acting by locals. The very fact that the budget was stretched in order to film in the African continent surely marks “Ebola Syndrome” as some kind of category III epic, thought the money was certainly well spent, as the scenes of Wong skulking around on safari are priceless. Even when in Hong Kong, the action is very hard to take seriously, as the killer’s idea of laying low invariably involves dressing like a pimp and hiring a penthouse suite, complete with a multitude of rangy looking prostitutes.

Yau is obviously all too aware of the material’s over the top nature, and plays things fast and loose, simply piling on scene after scene of hysterical outrage and giving little thought to trivial matters such as menace or tension. As a result, the film never really comes across as being particularly nasty, and is decidedly lacking in the bleakness and nihilistic hatred which marks so many similar genre entries. Although undeniably offensive, the film can therefore be enjoyed as a relatively guilt free pleasure.

The greatest strength of “Ebola Syndrome” is undoubtedly the presence of star Anthony Wong, turning in an excellent performance as the maniacal Kai, who has to be one of the most despicable characters in cinematic history. A thickheaded, homophobic, racist, and murderous rapist who only seems to take pleasure from degrading others, he is a truly evil man, a million miles away from the suave, wise-cracking killers that seem to populate the film’s Western counterparts. Wong plays the character with a great deal of wicked fun, though in deadpan style, and it’s hard not to laugh when, after finally cottoning on to the fact that he is a carrier for the virus, he holds a mob of angry policemen at bay by spitting on them.

This lunatic scene nicely sums up “Ebola Syndrome” for what it is: a wacky, over the top piece of splatter cinema laced with off the wall humour. Although viewers may choose to take the film seriously and condemn it as horrifyingly tasteless, to do so is to miss out on a wildly entertaining, ninety minute long sick joke, which, for fans of the form, is amongst the genre’s best.

Herman Yau (director) / Ting Chau (screenplay)
CAST: Miu-Ying Chan …. Har
Meng Lo …. The Boss
Fui-On Shing …. Annoyed Husband
Vincent Wang …. Yeung
Anthony Wong …. Kai San

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