Tsui Hark is one of the all time greats of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, having been responsible for undisputed genre classics such as “Zu Warriors” and “Peking Opera Blues”. Unfortunately, his output in recent years has been somewhat patchy, including a number of dire Van Damme vanity projects and the lackluster “Vampire Hunters”. Given this currently uninspiring state of affairs, fans of the director would do well to explore his back catalogue, a fair amount of which is enjoying a new lease on life thanks to digitally remastered DVD releases.
One such film, Hark’s second as director, is “We’re Going to Eat You”, an insane romp which straddles the martial arts, horror and comedy genres, with lashings of grue and even a sprinkling of social commentary thrown in to add flavor to the chaotic mix. Despite the bloody box art and advertisements, some of which seem to be trying to cash in on the Italian cannibal craze so prominent at the time, the film is actually quite light-hearted, with a winning sense of humor and a wacky disregard for logic. The non-stop action scenes really give Hark a chance to show off his directorial skills, and the film has an infectious energy which makes it worthwhile not only for his fans, but anyone who enjoys unrestrained, inventive and gory fight scenes, the likes of which are rarely seen in modern Hong Kong cinema.
The plot, which is probably best described as ‘loose’, follows Agent 999 (Norman Chu, also in “Zu Warriors”), a policeman chasing a bandit with the equally unlikely moniker of ‘Rolex’ (Melvin Wong, who category III fans may recognize from “Run and Kill”). Joined by an inept thief he meets along the way, Agent 999 follows his quarry to a remote island off the coast of the Chinese mainland, whose only inhabitants live in a mysterious, run down village. The islanders turn out to be a pack of savage cannibals, ruled over by a cruel boss (played by Eddy Ko, recently in Johnny To’s “PTU”) who sends them out in search of plunder and human flesh. As 999 closes in on his prey, who seems to be hiding somewhere in the village, he uncovers the island’s gruesome secret, and finds himself fighting desperately for his life as he tries to keep off the menu.
To be honest, the plot is irrelevant, existing only to vaguely tie together the fight scenes, and the script has the impression of being made up as the production progressed. Hark’s lack of concern for the film’s narrative is pretty obvious, since a couple of the characters seem to change names during the course of the story, as do their motivations and back stories. Fortunately, these inconsistencies are actually very entertaining, and only add to the film’s chaotic nature. Hark seems to be acting as a highly skilled juggler, managing to achieve the difficult feat of combining action, laughter, and some surprisingly potent gore into a semi-coherent whole.
The film is certainly very entertaining, and whilst very definitely in the worst possible taste (especially the scenes involving a grotesque and overweight transvestite intent on seducing everyone he sees), is jovial enough that it’s never actually offensive. “We’re Going to Eat You” is certainly quite a bloody film, and although there is little actual cannibalism, there are plenty of dismemberments, bisections, impalements, and martial arts battles involving meat cleavers. However, the gore is often offset by some rather endearing and silly touches, such as having protagonists wear roller-skates, or the liberal application of the time honored Hong Kong cinema tradition of slapstick.
The film does appear to have some kind of social commentary lurking beneath the chaos, and Hark seems to be making a statement about corruption. This is achieved through Ko’s brutal island leader, who dresses in army fatigues like some low-rent dictator, and walks around barking orders, helped by a wretched and insincere priest. Although this is obviously not the most significant feature of the film, it does add a valuable depth which is usually lacking in the genre.
Hark shows a number of directorial flourishes, not only in terms of the film’s dynamic energy, but also in some superbly staged fight scenes. Aided by famed choreographer and director Corey Yuen (“So Close”, “The Twins Effect 2″), Hark throws in some sequences featuring impressive numbers of protagonists and an incredible amount of disposable scenery. There are some nice touches, such as Agent 999 rolling a cigarette on the forehead of one of his opponents during a brawl. Although lacking in the ballet and pomp which some viewers may be used to in modern martial arts cinema, thanks to the likes of “House of Flying Daggers”, this is still invigorating stuff, far more violent and with a visceral impact that has more in common with the recent stunt-packed films of Tony Jaa than its current Hong Kong brethrens.
“We’re Going to Eat You” stands as an excellent example of an old-fashioned martial arts movie that mixes surprisingly effective comedy with copious bloodletting. Although the style and execution may seem a little rough to fans of recent high gloss epics, for those looking for something raw, and with a wild vibe, “We’re Going to Eat You” is the answer.
Hark Tsui (director) / Roy Szeto (screenplay)
CAST: Norman Chu …. Agent 999
Eddy Ko …. The Chief
Melvin Wong …. Rolex
David Wu …. Bisected Victim