r. 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,
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.