Friday, September 8, 2017

Steve Fenton Reviews: We're Going to Eat You.

(地獄無門 / Di yu wu men, a.k.a. HELL HAS NO GATES or NO DOOR TO HELL
Hong Kong, 1980. D: Tsui Hark 

Reviewed by Steve Fenton 

(Crank here with a short intro: I reviewed this film 5 years ago when I started this blog (link). Back then I would rattle off capsule reviews and hardly took notes. I'm always excited to read a different perspective on the same film, so I've convinced Steve Fenton to chip in a few reviews. Hopefully you know him from Weng's Chop and Monster besides other DR films he's tackled on this site respectively. And now on with the goods). 

As boss-cannibal The Chief says to his flunkies in regards to their—er—dog-eat-dog existence, “In our line of work, if you don’t eat people, they’ll eat you! If you don’t beat them, they’ll beat you!” Words to the wise… 

This movie’s title is probably most familiar to splatterheads as the US ad slogan for Lucio Fulci’s gutcruncher ZOMBIE (Zombi II, 1979), and it is quite feasible that Tsui Hark was influenced for this early feature (his second following THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS [蝶變 / Die bian, 1979]) by the then-still-ongoing Italian zombie/cannibal genres. According to an unsubstantiated rumor I once heard c/o Colin “Asian Eye/TIFF Midnight Madness/Shudder” Geddes, a Chinese story by Qing Dynasty scribe Pu Songling (a.k.a. 蒲松齡 [1640-1715])—possibly one from his collection Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio?—was likely also a source of inspiration here. Whichever way you slice it, however, WGTEY is indeed one bizarre pot of (to quote Alice Cooper from his classic horror track “The Black Widow” [1975]) “humanary stew”; and, since one man’s (or woman’s) meat is another’s poison, only those strong-stomached flesh-eaters with a liking for theirs not just rare but damn near raw need apply! 

A very erotic episode of Archie Bunker.

Firstly, before we plunge into the—ahem—meat of the matter, allow me to whet your appetite with this tasty tidbit of backstory: In 1992, a Communist dissident named Zheng Yi fled Mainland (i.e., Red) China for Hong Kong (which was then still some five years away from becoming re-assimilated back into the mother country’s jurisdiction [as happened in the fateful year of 1997]), risking his life to defect and reveal to the world at large the horrifying contents of a 600-page manuscript which he had in his possession and was eager to bring to light. This damning document exposed cases of mass public cannibalism organized by the Communist régime during the tumultuous social upheaval of the ’60s Chinese Cultural Revolution. At that time, subversives were reportedly systematically/summarily executed, butchered and then devoured by slavering throngs of loyal Reds. Chairman Mao Zedong believed it was a fine symbol of his people’s “class struggle”; his followers evidently believed it was a good excuse for a BBQ. Due to the sensitive, classified nature of the information contained in the smuggled manuscript for many years before it finally came to light in the early ’90s, it is doubtful that WGTEY’s main maker/mover’n’shaker Tsui drew from actual historical facts (other than perhaps whispered rumors), but—if the film is viewed in broader symbolic/satiric terms—the parallels with certain aspects of China’s then-recent past are noteworthy. 

who else feels like chicken tonight?

And so to the film itself… On an isolated jungle island somewhere in Republican China dwells a whole community of mad butchers—led by him respectfully known as The Chief—with a penchant for the taste of human meat; indeed, central to the community is an ominous brick-and-mortar building known (with good reason!) as the slaughterhouse. Any unwary outsider foolish enough to stray into the voracious villagers’ neck of the woods soon winds up slaughtered, deboned and dressed upon their chopping blocks, ready to be divvied-up for consumption by the locals at the communal dining hall (quaintly described as the “cafeteria” [!] in the English subs to my Mei Ah Entertainment disc edition of the film, which I scored back in the mid-2000s down in Toronto’s Chinatown on a bootleg DVD-R c/o the Triads for a mere two bucks Canuck). 

2 Buck Canuck, I wonder if that wine pairs well with human meat? 

Right in the prologue, a bunch of ersatz downsize Leatherfaces in butchers’ aprons wielding meat-axes, carving knives and bone-saws turn a couple of foolhardy trespassers into instant coldcuts. Close-ups of knives piercing flesh and choppers severing limbs are followed by a man being sawn in half at the waist. This all amounts to quite the garishly gruesome opener, for sure. Although there’s much stronger meat to be had these days, and HK cinema went to even greater lengths to unsettle stomachs in later decades (especially during the spate of ultra-violent “Category III” shockers made in the ’90s), back in the day this was mighty potent stuff, without doubt; even if, shades of its occidental kindred spirit/more-than-just-partial inspiration source THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974, USA, D: Tobe Hooper), many of the bloody bodily atrocities committed in WGTEY are much more implied rather than actually graphically shown. That said, more-so than in Hooper’s comparatively restrained film, there’s still plenty of gory gruesomeness to be seen onscreen in the present one, so it’s hardly an exercise in subtle horror, by any means. 

you were expecting Anthony Wong?

Shortly into the narrative proper, a pair of omnivorous river travelers—a dope-smoking, shaggy-wigged “hippy” hobo/thief (Hon Kwok-choi) and a skilled young martial artist/Central Surveillance operative named Jian Men, alias Agent 999 (played by the rather Danny Lee-like Norman Chu Siu-keung, from WING CHUN [詠春, 1994, D: Yuen Wo-Ping])—stop off at the inhospitable isle of ravenous cannibals, who much prefer home-cooked vittles of the human kind rather than lowly chicken. At their village, the longhair is soon ‘molested’ by an oversexed (or possibly just seriously undersexed) Chinese giantess, who forcibly attempts to have her way with him. (“I’ve got syphilis”, he says in hopes of dissuading his seven-foot-plus seductress. Her good-natured reply is, “Hey, so do I!” Gee, it’s a small world, huh?) The XL female is played strictly for distasteful laughs by ‘her’ drag (?) actor, so it does come as rather a mean-spirited surprise for us when s/he too winds up chopped into extra-large cubes of stewing beef (or rather, “long pig”)—not by the cannibals, but by the heroes. Thankfully, this development isn’t dwelled upon in nauseating detail, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth anyway, being as the late oversized nymphomaniac amounted to one of the strange village’s more normal, likeable inhabitants. 
At least this flick is more tolerant than PantyHose Hero!

As befits his official title, The Chief (Eddy Ko Hung, sporting an obviously spurious stick-on ’stache and beardlet) is a militaristic, order-barking authoritarian in partial (if decidedly worse-for-wear-and-tear) uniform, who wields a combo swagger stick/cudgel as his scepter of office and in a later amusing scene bemoans the loneliness of his position as top dog in the pecking order. His #1 aide is a man called Rolex (Melvin Wong Gam-San), a fugitive—now-reformed—bandit who is Agent 999’s primary reason for being in the vicinity in the first place. Having sickened of the local yokels’ cannibalistic ways, the ex-criminal endeavors to put an end to them with the G-man’s help, while clearing his name in the process. 

Over the course of this outré scenario, veritable rivers of watered-down raspberry syrup-like blood are shown flowing in loving close-up, although much of the actual damage done to people’s bodies by all the various cold steel carving implements used is kept firmly out of frame, even if the editor’s juxtaposition of the various visual elements does succeed in making such scenes painful to witness nonetheless. Humor periodically segues to horror (and vice versa) without warning, but this queasy admixture of goofball slapstick comedy and extreme gore largely works, thanks to the staccato cutting—pun very much intended!—and Tsui’s morbid sense of humor, even if the gags do sometimes descend to lowbrow scatology (e.g., “I’ll feed you my farts!”), which was certainly nothing new for HK’s commercial cinema, even then.  

Cannibalistic citizens bicker over larger portions of “pie”, while the shunned/scorned town outcast is a vegetarian (or, worse still, possibly even an all-out Vegan?!) suffering from advanced malnutrition. An amorous wife asks her spouse for a bit of “heart”… literally! While eating noodles, a man finds a whole fingernail in his bowl, which is a whole lot grosser by far than finding a fly in your soup. When a strip of quivering flesh is slashed from his comrade, a flesheater smacks his lips appreciatively and promptly has a nibble of said mouth-wateringly tantalizing morsel. Even when bloodily dismembering victims, the masked meatmen are portrayed as comical lunkheads. Blades cleave skulls set to kooky Three Stooges-like sound effects, while frenetically clashing cymbals bring a disjointed, unsettling quality to the soundtrack, which also incorporates sundry “Halloween haunted house”-style spooky audio FX too; hell, even that familiar canned “wolf-howl” heard in innumerable horror flicks from both the Orient and the Occident is also reheard herein. The cannibals’ voracious appetite for manmeat is played for much broad farce, and human flesh is bartered like steak. The whole “humans-as-cattle” angle/subtext is emphasized further in a scene where two combatants buffet at each other with long-horned yak skulls like rutting male moose trying to outdo one another for a mate. Roller-skates, firecrackers and some impeccably-choreographed kung fu figure prominently at the climax of WGTEY, as does a grisly final twist. Even periodic (if only brief) lapses into philosophical pontification on the universal human condition fail to cause viewers’ attention to wander, and seem fitting to the overall surreal proceedings. 

Oh I'm sorry am I boring you?

All of this might well be interpreted as political allegory regarding Communist China (way back when in Tsui’s Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show segment, droll host Jonathan Ross aptly called it “biting satire”). But there’s no need to bother with underlying ‘social commentary’ anyway if you don’t feel so inclined; by all means just sit back and enjoy the outrageous visuals! WGTEY is great fun entertainment, but if it happens to be your first-ever experience with HK cinema of the more out-there kind, you’re probably in for a bit of culture shock on top of all the other more visceral shocks you get from it. Cannibalism—even when stir-fried with absurdist Rabelaisian touches and (jet-black) humor—is understandably not exactly a popular topic in Hong Kong, even if so many local filmmakers have dabbled in such themes over the years (case in point some of those grislier “Cat III” serial killer shockers). Upon its initial release, WE’RE GOING TO EAT YOU proved to be a resounding commercial flop, as was Tsui’s other satirical/political piece from the same year, DANGEROUS ENCOUNTERS OF THE FIRST KIND (第一類型危險 / Di yi lei xing wei xian, see review here). Distributors treated both of these at-the-time unpopular films with great apathy and allowed them to gather dust in their vaults for many years, before the home video boom, which started catching-on in the ’80s and shows no signs of slowing down to this day (even if the technology has changed so drastically for the better in the meantime!), began gradually building-up their international fanbases; both films have long-since developed sizeable cult followings by now, and for hardcore HK-horror buffs, the present title—the most notorious of the two by far, for obvious reasons—amounts to absolutely mandatory viewing. 

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