Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Comedy/ Horror/ Category III/ Exploitation
Director: Bosco Lam
TRASH CINEMA ESSENTIAL MOVIE
Not long ago, I reviewed Mark Of The Devil in these pages. Like A Chinese Torture Chamber Story, Mark Of The Devil concerns people who have been brought up on false charges and tortured. Both films feature a fair amount of nudity and sexual hijinks. Given the ridiculous film score and direction, I don’t think Mark Of The Devil was meant to be taken seriously, but it still leaves a foul taste in the mouth.
On the other hand, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is a nonstop, unalloyed delight. I can’t recall when I laughed so hard throughout an entire movie.
Why? After all, people really were tortured in the Ming dynasty. The tortures here, while some are obviously made up, are fairly graphic and pretty horrible. Why then is A Chinese Torture Chamber Story so hilarious?
It all has to do with tone. Back in the Golden Age of Hong Kong, HK filmmakers used to be masters at the precarious balance between farce and drama. The actors in A Chinese Torture Chamber Story never let on that they’re in a comedy. To them, the goings on are quite serious. And yet, by subtle musical cues, lighting, pacing, editing and all the tools director Bosco Lam has at his disposal, we understand that A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is an exploitation comedy, and not to be taken seriously.
Little Cabbage (the preternaturally adorable Yvonne Yung Hung) and Yang Ni-Mu (Lawrence Ng) have been framed for the murder of Little Cabbage’s husband, Got Siu-Tai (Tommy Wong). It seems that he has been poisoned by an aphrodisiac that caused his penis to explode. Yep, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is that kind of movie.
The judge in this case, Lau Shek-Tung (Lo Hung), is cooperating with the frameup because the real murderer is his son, Lau Hoi-Sing (Kenny Wong), who is carrying on an affair with Yang Ni-Mu’s wife, Jane (Ching Mai). Got that?
This being the bad old days, if the accused don’t confess, they are tortured in various bizarre ways until they do.
The actors in A Chinese Torture Chamber Story are absolutely inspired. As Little Cabbage, Yvonne Yung Hung is just adorable, but she makes Little Cabbages emotional discomfort absolutely hysterical. Lawrence Ng is a riot, especially when he’s being smug about his sexual prowess. Tommy Wong is laugh out loud funny as a decent man with a comically large penis and a sex drive to match. Because of the broad comedy, it might be tempting to underappreciate what the actors do here, but don’t. Balancing on the knife-edge between farce and drama is very delicate and exacting work.
As if the basic plot didn’t have enough potential for amusement, midway through the film, writers Cheuk Bing and Chui Daat-Choh introduce a Kung Fu couple who stage sexual Kung Fu contests in the forest, played by a very game Elvis Tsui and Julie Lee. These martial arts battles satirize the flying wuxia genre then in vogue to stunning effect. I particularly enjoyed the Wonder Screw. This is comic nirvana for Hong Kong film fans.
And the filmmakers don’t take the easy way out. The costumes and sets are wonderful. The cinematography by Tony Miu is terrific, in that stylized Golden Age of Hong Kong wuxia fashion. The action choreography by Poon Kin-Gwan for the sexual Kung Fu sequences is terrific. The music score by composers Lee Hon-Kam and Marco Wan Ho-Kit is a perfect mix of traditional Chinese music and modern comic cues. There’s even a witty use of Unchained Melody, fresh in viewers’ minds from the Western hit, Ghost, scored for traditional Chinese musical instruments.
And for those of you who care, lots of Chinese ladies get nekkid, and they’ve all got very nice bodies.
A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is the sort of crazy comic exploitation flick that would be impossible to make anywhere else but in Hong Kong during the Golden Age. It should be cherished. They really don’t make them like that anymore and they never will again.
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