Fatal Vacation (1987) Movie Review

Originally released back in 1989 and now re-issued on DVD, “Fatal Vacation” marked a major change of direction for star, writer, director and producer Eric Tsang. Previously known largely as a comedic actor thanks to popular turns in the likes of the hit “Lucky Stars” and “Mad, Mad, Mad World” series as well as in countless other madcap Hong Kong genre outings of the period, the category III rated film saw him venturing into far more violent and visceral territory with a tale of tourists in peril during a visit to the Philippines.

Certainly, the film’s scenes of the portly performer packing oversized guns are likely to provide a bit a shock for viewers used to either his past slapstick persona or his modern roles as a suave mob boss in “Infernal Affairs” and other triad themed thrillers. Here Tsang stars as Eric, tour guide whose latest trip to the Philippines goes horribly wrong after a particularly vicious gang of rebel militants captures him, his odd midget sidekick called Rainman and his busload of clients. Taken to a remote rural village, the unfortunate tourists are brutalised and abused while the kidnappers attempt to negotiate with the government for the release of their own imprisoned comrades. Inevitably, things turn sour and after talks break down a number of hostages are executed. Eventually it becomes clear that the tourists will have to take matters into their own hands if they are to survive and the plucky survivors hatch a daring escape plan.

“Fatal Vacation” borrows quite liberally from a number of high profile Hollywood productions, most obviously “The Deer Hunter”, and in its latter stages “Rambo”, with a number of iconic scenes simply copied, most notably a Russian roulette sequence. However, Tsang does manage to combine these far more skilfully than usually seen with the cut and paste fashion so common in Hong Kong cinema at the time, and though familiar the film is well put together and benefits from a fast pace and plenty of taut thrills.

Although the tourists are the expected motley crew of policemen, tough guy triads, horny letches on the lookout for whores and scantily clad women, none of whom ever manage to grab much in the way of sympathy, the film scores points for taking a rather cruel and unforgiving stance towards them, thinning their ranks quite mercilessly with a number of genuinely surprising death scenes. As a result the film makes for increasingly tense viewing, with plenty of action and harrowing nastiness (along with a great deal of praying) to keep things interesting. Of course, in true Hong Kong style there is strange comic edge to certain parts of the film, and though these lapses do unfortunately diffuse some of the tension, the mixed tone does make for some inadvertent, though equally effective entertainment. More surprising is the fact that Tsang manages to work in a little social criticism, not only of the ineffective government response, but also of the Hong Kong media covering the crisis, who in one scene purposely reduce the pregnant widow of one of the hostage to tears just to capture the moment on camera.

It has to be said that “Fatal Vacation” is largely undeserving of its category III rating, which was presumably awarded for general tone rather than graphic content. To be fair, the film is pretty grim in places, with a few scenes of torture and rape, though unlike the vast majority of similarly themed Hong Kong productions of the time it resolutely refuses to revel in the sleazy details and features no nudity and only a few splashes of gun battle gore. However, this is not a criticism as such, and the lack of gratuitous sleaze and nastiness actually helps the film by allowing it to rise above the level of tacky exploitation and to be taken more seriously as a tense, gritty thriller. The action is well handled, if a little ludicrous in places, with the faceless bad guys being mowed down en masse and sent somersaulting into the air in slow motion by disconcertingly inexplicable explosions – all of which is highly entertaining, as is the sight of Tsang and the other tourists suddenly transforming into unlikely gun-toting avengers who manage to bring down their previously fearsome oppressors with startling ease.

As such, although it may disappoint viewers looking for over the top sadism, “Fatal Vacation” works well as a gripping, entertaining slice of relatively tough Hong Kong action. Surprisingly well made and showing Tsang to be a genuinely talented director, it stands as one of the better films of its type which emerged during a time generally marked by hamfisted excess.

Clifton Ko (director)
CAST: Bill Tung … Bill
Lydia Shum … Mrs. Bill
Elsie Chan … Da-Dai
Loletta Lee … Wai-Dai
Eric Tsang … Siu Kou-Joe

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