hinese 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.