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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ebola Syndrome (1996) review


Anthony Wong (Kai San), Angel Wong (Lily Chow), Lo Mang (Boss Kei), Vincent Wan (Sgt. Yeung Guo Lap), Marianne Chan (Ha), Shing Fu On (Boss Kwan)

Directed by Herman Yau

The Short Version: Disgusting and extremely offensive HK Cate-gory III nuttiness goes overboard with its gruesome subject matter mixing a filthy, wholly unlikable slob cum mass murderer with the deadly body dissolving disease that is the Ebola Virus of Africa. A veritable checklist of gore and unsavory torture is trotted out in this wonderfully revolting, blackly comical Hong Kong horror film starring the islands resident cinema psycho, Anthony Wong. Quite possibly the ultimate vomit, bile and viscous fluid spewing movie champion. Recommended for those with strong stomachs and those not easily offended.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and graphic violence***

After being caught having sex with his boss's wife, Kai San massacres them all and escapes Hong Kong. Ten years later, Kai is working at a restaurant in Johannesburg South Africa. Lily Chow, the little girl who survived the massacre is now a stewardess and senses the savage man is nearby upon meeting some friends in a local restaurant. Later, Kai and his boss journey to an out of the way African village beset by the Ebola virus to buy some inexpensive pork meat. After purchasing their pigs, Kai rapes a local African woman and contracts the deadly disease. Becoming one of a rare few who become carriers, Kai snaps embarking on a mass murder spree that includes raping, killing and dismembering his boss and his wife and serving them as hamburgers to patrons passing the Ebola virus to the numerous customers. Kai soon returns to Hong Kong where he continues to spread the deadly contagion.

This uncompromisingly tasteless Hong Kong production from Herman Yau is one of the most hilariously repugnant films ever regurgitated onto a viewing audience. Depending on ones personality, EBOLA SYNDROME will either thoroughly disgust you, or evoke guffaws of utter astonishment at the sheer audacity of what transpires onscreen. Released a year prior to the exchange of Hong Kong back to China, it's as if the filmmakers were giving the middle finger to the imminent takeover in what amounts to a gore and bodily fluid saturated version of Wolfgang Petersen's OUTBREAK from 1995. Something of a 'Greatest Hits' package of the most sadistic and vile acts ever devised for a motion picture, Yau's movie is so gleefully over the top, it fluctuates between the most sordid of American exploitation and the equivalent of a live action and 'X' rated Warner Bros. cartoon.

For EBOLA SYNDROME, Director Yau attempts making a social statement, but any underlying themes are lost among the catalog of carnage and outrageous mayhem. To make a comparison, Yau is the closest to a Kuei Chi Hung modern HK cinema has seen in relation to capturing a gritty atmosphere populated by the most unsavory of characters. In the 1970s, Kuei directed several modern day HK horror-crime thrillers that did something EBOLA SYNDROME doesn't fully accomplish and that's successfully capture the squalor of the poor and the pestilent underbelly of drug addicts and prostitution rings while delivering a high quotient of exploitational delights. Yau's film touches on these subjects, but focuses far more on the sleazy aspects for maximum shock value.

Yau had already been well known for his notorious work on the trendsetting HK pseudo comical sleaze of the absolutely nasty THE UNTOLD STORY (1993) and his work here retains that films major plot device as well as its manic star, Anthony Wong. Yau also directed THE UNTOLD STORY 3 in 1999. He also hearkened back to the glorious days of the Shaw Brothers Malay lensed BLACK MAGIC series with GONG TAU (BLACK MAGIC) in 2007. Some of Yau's work is extremely dire such as the ridiculous, low level CGI shit wagon, THE LETHAL NINJA from 2006.

Anthony Wong owns the film and as morally corrupt and disgusting as his character is, you miss his presence when he isn't within camera range. Everything from his mannerisms to his dialog borders on slapstick of the revolting kind. The level of oozingly black, tar like humor reaches its zenith once Kai begins taking bites out of himself running around the city spitting blood on everyone he comes across while frantically yelling "Ebola! Ebola!" Kai is the very embodiment of the modern neanderthal and the script occasionally slips in a moment or two that reminds us that we should sympathize with this social outcast. Scenes of him spitting in someone's tea, or the sight of him carving a slit in a piece of pork to slide his penis into while listening to his boss fuck his wife "enhance" Kai's "colorful" personality. His throwback status is assured when he serves said piece of semen saturated meat to a customer thereby erasing whatever audience connection might have existed tossing Kai straight back to the stone age where he belongs.

It's difficult to imagine anyone else but Wong in this role. It's doubtful if even Simon Yam, highly proficient in essaying big screen psycho's himself could have brought the same level of rancid dishevelment Wong brings to the table. Wong is so cartoonishly believable here you can almost smell the sweaty funk emanating off of his sloppy, unkempt appearance. Even when he's dressed up, a stink of viscous putrescence is in the air.


In nearly every scene of his, Kai is either spitting, snorting, making bizarre facial expressions or grabbing himself. He is perpetually horny and in one of the more tasteless scenes, he rapes a sick African woman and as he reaches orgasm, the Ebola infected woman begins convulsing prior to erupting her own white, milky vomit all over Kai. The madman then repeatedly smashes the woman's cranium with a rock. Anthony Wong made a name for himself playing slimy villains in such films as HARD BOILED (1992), THE UNTOLD STORY (1993) and TAXI HUNTER (1993). EBOLA SYNDROME is all of Wong's oppressed "errand boys" and maniacs all rolled up into one.

.....and after. Notice the squashed head. Kai enjoys mashed noggins. The sound effects are bone crunchingly loud and suitably nasty, too.

Insert image is a cut shot from the film

Considering the ADD level of tonal shift in dozens of HK movies throughout the 90s, EBOLA SYNDROME never attempts to be serious, nor does it go from a drama to a horror picture to a comedy and back again--it remains sickeningly chucklesome from start to finish. Even during its most depraved moments, Wong's onscreen antics are so abhorrently over the top, genre fans can't help but shake their heads in amusement, or disbelief. During its 98 minute running time you'll see Kai indulge in, among other things--rape, torture, dismemberment, cutting out a tongue, murdering children, sucking out an eyeball, serving human meat to unsuspecting customers (in an homage to THE UNTOLD STORY), all around uncouth behavior and a predilection for squashing heads into a bloody pulp.

At its blackly comical core, EBOLA SYNDROME is the flip side of Yau's earlier TAXI HUNTER (1993). In that film, Anthony Wong portrayed an embittered man who lost his pregnant wife to an insensitive taxi driver (reportedly a problem in HK at that time) resulting in his murderous assault on HK cabbies. His character of Kai on the other hand, is a mental midget and societal castaway to be used, abused, chewed up and spit back out again. The wild butchering of his boss, his promiscuous wife and a co-worker at the beginning spells out that Kai is most definitely unstable. This goes further when he takes his now dead boss's little girl, douses her with gasoline and prepares to set her ablaze. A neighbor enters and asks what's going on to which Kai proclaims--"I'm killing them! What's wrong?!" The little girl grows up traumatized by the incident and becomes the films sub plot that, while cropping up intermittently, goes largely unexplored.

Going back to Wong's character, Kai seems to return to "normal"--to a child like state so long as he isn't being threatened, bullied or severely insulted. Towards the end of the movie, he goes completely batshit crazy in one of the zaniest finales of any film, period. The coda ventures into "it's not over yet" territory leaving a beacon for a sequel that never arrived and if one had, it's doubtful it would have ever been able to attain the sheer level of caveman creativity of Herman Yau's nutty production.

Fans of Shaw Brothers and Chang Cheh venom era films will grow a smile on their face upon seeing 'The Toad' of the FIVE VENOMS (1978) playing the Johannesburg restauranteur married to a hot tempered and hot bodied wife. Lo Mang also played a supporting role in HARD BOILED (co-starring Anthony Wong as the main heavy [1992]) alongside his former venoms alum, Kuo Chui. Lo is right humorous here as the bespectacled restaurant owner unaware of the ticking time bomb he has employed. Lo speaks English in some scenes and also partakes in a humorous sex scene with Cheung Lau (SEX & ZEN 2). Lo Mang also took a pivotal role in SEX & ZEN 3 from 1998. Recently, Lo can be seen in both IP MAN 2 and GALLANTS (both 2010).

The image above was cut from the finished movie

The HK censors removed approximately 2 minutes of gore and extreme nastiness for its brief theatrical run back in July of 1996. Even missing some of its gruesomeness, EBOLA SYNDROME is still a riotously nauseating experience. Having been released on VCD and DVD multiple times, this truncated footage has never made it back into the finished film. However, the US special edition DVD has all of the cut footage included as an extra. Reportedly, the director himself didn't want the excised grue put back into the film.

Another cut gore shot

Among the many scenes of offensiveness are some shots that are all too real. Those who dislike animal violence will want to skip one scene in an African village where a witch doctor both rips apart and cuts in half several chickens during a ritual for dying victims of the Ebola virus. He proceeds to spit blood on the dying as well as wipe the red fluid across his chest as it escapes the bloody stump. This Golden Harvest production afforded a weeks worth of shooting in South Africa and these location scenes, including numerous shots of the animal life, elevate the production values far more than the average Category III quickie.

If all that weren't enough, an element of racism is blatantly in your face for over half the films running time and reflects the casual mindset Asians have for "outsiders". The music by Mak Chun Hung suits the film perfectly offsetting the wackiness of the extreme violence with some throbbingly doom laden cues and some somewhat tribal echoes that resonate the title disease. While it's one of the most well known and infamous Category III HK movies among fans of oriental cinema, horror fans might have a good time getting some take out with Herman Yau's fast chow that is the insanely offensive EBOLA SYNDROME.

This review is representative of the Discotek DVD


J. Astro said...

I'd never heard of this before, but frankly, it sounds amazing (in an awesomely tasteless, disgusting sense). You have forced my hand and I will no doubt seek this one out for my own perusal!

Max Evel said...

Sounds like something I would watch, and something I might have caught a couple of days ago, but then if I caught it , I guess I wouldn't be here writing this comment .
Dun, Dun ,Dun !

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

THE UNTOLD STORY, DR. LAMB and THE EBOLA SYNDROME are surely amongst the most repulsive motion pictures ever made? Have you ever seen BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE Brian? Interestingly the same historical subject matter was recently appropriated in the art film CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, which was shot in tasteful black and white. Comparing the two would be quite fascinating.

the jaded viewer said...

Awesome review. I remember seeing this for the first time and being blown away. Its funny now how Anthony Wong stars is regular HK flicks even with this on his resume.

venoms5 said...

@ J: I hope you enjoy it. The US DVD has some great extras on it, too!

@ Max: I hear ya, Max. It would be hard to forget EBOLA SYNDROME if you'd watched it.

@ Shaun: Yes, I have both MEN BEHIND THE SUN and BLACK SUN: NANKING MASSACRE. Incidentally, director Mou was planning to do a third, but he went through so much trouble doing the first two he gave up. I have a documentary-interview a friend made with Mou Tun Fei which told some interesting stories. I haven't seen the one you mention, though. I highly recommend Iris Chang's bestselling book, THE RAPE OF NANKING: THE FORGOTTEN HOLOCAUST OF WW2.

@ JV: I don't know about now as I don't keep up with newer movies coming out of HK, but back then, HK actors would flip flop between classy and classless movies with relative ease, from the 70s up to the takeover in 1997.

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