zombiesStephen FungAlice ChanSammuel Leung
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Wai-Man Cheng
Writer: Cheuk-Hon Szeto
Keywords: zombies, gangster
Language: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Actor: Stephen Fung, Sam Lee, Alice Chan, Wai Ming Chan, Keung-Kuen Lai, Shiu Hung Hui, Chi Hung Ng, Ronald Wong, Sammuel Leung, Jude Poyer, Kit Koon, Dave Taylor
Format: 89 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276500/
Website category: Asian
Review date: 3 February 2012
It has good bits, but it's too dumb and insulting for me to like it.
It's a zombie film, but more importantly it's a Hong Kong zombie film. There's a Hong Kong horror tradition of going for cheap gags and not even trying to be scary. The worldwide sensation of Ringu in 1998 had of course caused a rethink (i.e. attempted cash grab) in Asian horror, but the old ways didn't die out overnight. The film to which this owes a debt isn't Ringu, but instead a successful Hong Kong zombie comedy from 1998 called Bio-Zombie. All the reviews I've seen compare them. They follow essentially the same formula, even sharing the same star (Sam Lee), but the difference is that I believe people liked Bio-Zombie.
The story begins with Americans doing research into a virus that creates Painless Warriors, or so my bad subtitles inform me. Soldiers who don't feel pain, in other words. You can shoot them a bunch of times and they'll just stand there and look at you for a few seconds before eventually falling down. Their experimental subject bites a Chinese doctor (Keung-Kuen Lai), who's then allowed to fly home to Hong Kong in order to get intimate with prostitutes, start fights in which he single-handedly takes down Triad gangs, pull people's limbs off and become the megalomaniac leader of an undead mob. Tch. Careless. You'd think these people would learn. What's more, he tells his gun-toting ex-girlfriend Alice Chan that he's infected with this disease and she lets him walk away alive. People even go around telling each other that the virus has mutated! Are they imbeciles? (Answer: yes.)
It's possible to explain away one or two of the plot holes. Mutations would explain the inconsistencies in virus incubation speed and how strong and/or bulletproof it makes its victims. Nevertheless the script as a whole stinks to me of a writer who's knocking out any old nonsense at top speed and has no intention of rewriting for plausibility, consistency or respect for the audience's intelligence. My Plot Convenience Alarm was complaining at the way all the characters either know each other, keep running into each other and/or are siblings. There's a repeated gag of people hiding in police station lockers in order to jump out at dramatically appropriate moments, which I never found believable. I rolled my eyes when Alice Chan was shooting people because the film wants us to know that she's badass. If Sam Lee's so embarrassed by being thought a beggar, why doesn't he take his handcuffed hands out from under the newspaper? If bullets won't stop the zombies, try popping inflated condoms. The conversation at the start between Stephen Fung (cop), Wai Ming Chan (cop's girlfriend) and Sam Lee (wacky dude) is vaguely annoying, since I felt it relied on everyone being comedy characters rather than human beings. And so on.
Then we have the production problems:
(a) the shoddiest zombie make-up I've ever seen
(b) a finger that gets bitten off, then later is back again
(c) cell bars that are clearly made of rubber
(d) silly-looking green slime
However when all else fails to stop a bio-zombie... no, actually no-one flashes their boobs at them. That would have been good, but no. This film has no tits. I'm not saying that nudity is mandatory in low-grade fare like this, but it's just one of many differences between this and something like Junk.
I was in a bad mood, basically. The film had whizzed in my corn flakes, so I wasn't in any mood to appreciate the good stuff when it came along later... and in fairness, it is sometimes fun too. The comedy can be amusing. The hostage scene with a knifeman and Fung's boss is entertaining, while I didn't mind the characters when I was able to believe in what they were doing. (Well, except for Alice Bell. It's not the actress's fault, but I disliked the character she's playing and when she's wondering whether to take back Fung after dumping him, I was thinking that if I were Fung, it would be me who wasn't taking her. The fact that she's having her period is no excuse.)
Things improve when zombies are running amuck. If nothing else, Hong Kong zombie movies are a bit more action-oriented, with fist fights, gunplay and a zombie catching a machete with his bare hands, then bending it in two. That's refreshing. Western zombie films don't do that. More positively I enjoyed the scene where everyone's hiding in lockers and the zombies are sniffing everywhere. Good (i.e. bad) things happen to the annoying superintendant, with his first comeuppance managing to be a bit icky in how it's so conversational. There are also two emotional scenes, with "Shoot me in the head" being a genre staple but "It's your wife" being a lovely touch, I thought.
Sometimes the film's clever. I liked the image of a prostitute having sex with a zombie because she's got her mouth and fists stuffed full of money, while there's a gag about illegal immigrants pretending to be soldiers from the Chinese mainland. However at the end of the day, this is a movie that was shot in a fortnight and playing in cinemas another week later.
At the end of the day, it's a lively and entertaining Hong Kong zombie film that's unfortunately also sloppy and annoying. On the upside, it doesn't look as cheap as it is. Hong Kong knows movie-making. Apart from the zombie make-up, it looks more like a real film than it deserves and it doesn't feel as if you've been digging in the bargain bins. The acting's perfectly acceptable, albeit never underplayed, and the script's just one rewrite away from being a solid B-movie. It's tongue in cheek, sometimes funny and better in the second half once the zombies get going. I still wouldn't bother if I were you, though.
"I'll then mate with my offspring and the whole world will belong to me."