Released in our theaters on July 6, “The Sadness” is inspired in particular by Category III films, a classification reserved, in Hong Kong, for feature films deemed particularly extreme.
The director is Canadian. Taiwanese film. And he is inspired by works produced… in Hong Kong. Released on July 6 in our cinemas, after a passage noticed by various festivals (Locarno, Gérardmer…), The Sadness is considered one of the most violent feature films seen on the big screen lately, with scenes that go very far without falling into the complacency that they repeatedly graze.
I have to say that Robert Jabbazthe director, was not looking for realism: “I purposely went beyond the limits, and entered a kind of hyper-reality”, he says in the press kit. And he was particularly inspired by Category III films, a classification set up in 1988 in Hong Kong, which stipulates: “No one under the age of 18 is permitted to rent, purchase or watch this film in theaters.” The two previous categories designate works for all audiences and then those prohibited for children. And in France, the feature films in question are generally prohibited for those under 16.
A restriction that applies to films produced in Hong Kong as well as abroad. A little sex, a lot of violence, a political statement against the communist regime and/or questionable morality are necessary to be part of what has become a genre in its own right on the spot, and has participated in the revival of local cinema. Category III is not reserved for horror, since filmmakers such as Johnnie To (Election and his after) Where Wong Kar-Wai (HappyTogether) were entitled to it.
In the case of The Sadness, it was gore and transgression that obviously influenced Robert Jabbaz: “In a lot of Category III films, there’s a kind of strange tone, something almost childlike comedy (…) I thought it would be interesting to make a film like that, but without the humor. Or at least, without making gags, leaving only tiny touches of irony.”
While the result is still visible in our theaters, here are some horrific examples from Hong Kong, where films of the genre experienced their golden age between 1988 and 1997, before becoming rarer thereafter. But we find them at the heart of a documentary released in 2018, Category III: The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema.
Camp 731 of Tun Fei Mou (1988)
What is it about ? [1945JapanseesthepointofdefeatAunitspecializinginchemicalandbacteriologicalexperimentsischargedbytheemperorwithdevelopingnewweaponscapableofreversingthecourseofthewarCamp731apoolofhumanguineapigsisthereforeputtouse
The shock scene – Field 731 does not go with the back of the spoon to show the abuse of all kinds suffered by the prisoners he stages. But two sequences particularly mark the spirits: when a cat is devoured by rats, before the latter are set on fire, a passage whose complacency has earned him comparisons with Cannibal Holocaust.
And especially this vivisection of a child (seen in the process of sympathizing with his future executioners a few minutes earlier), carried out thanks to images of a real autopsy whose family of the deceased agreed to give up the images. Even without these unbearable images, the feature film deserved its place in Category III. These scenes only support it.
Herman Yau’s The Untold Story (1993)
What is it about ? – Half waiter, half crook, Wong is also an assassin. To hide the evidence of his crime, he improvises as a cook to stuff his buns with the meat of his victims before serving them, in peace, to his customers.
The shock scene – Urophilia, rape, infanticide… The Untold Story refuses nothing, in case its inclusion among the films of Category III was not immediately assured. The Hong Kong director stops at nothing when it comes to human meat and, above all, murder. And in particular that, very graphic, of a family, including beheadings of children. Suggestion enthusiasts, go your way.
Herman Yau’s Ebola Syndrome (1996)
What is it about ? – Sam, a restaurant worker living and working in Hong Kong, is forced to flee to South Africa after sleeping with his boss’s wife. There he finds work in a restaurant but is exploited by his new employers who know he is on the run. Of a violent nature, Sam rapes a woman in an African village and contracts the Ebola virus. His boss and his wife learn of the existence of his illness, he kills them and uses them as “hamburgers” served to customers, thereby spreading the virus. Sam decides to return to Hong Kong, soon the Ebola virus spreads around him and in the city.
The shock scene – Quasi-remake of Untold Story, by the same director, Ebola Syndrome demonstrates a little more second degree without sacrificing any of its intensity. Or his desire to go after things. Infanticide, racism, autopsy, contamination, rape, sex, scatology, rudeness… Everything is good for shocking, without trying to deliver a message, and its ultra-violence makes it one of the flagship works of Category III. Especially when he adds an ounce of cannibalism to his already loaded cocktail, through the burgers Kai serves to his customers.
Daughter of Darkness by Yvan Lai (1993)
What is it about ? After being raped by her father, teenager Mak Wei-Fong decides to take revenge against her abusive family who kept silent about this act and thus save the relationship with her boyfriend.
The shock scene – Starting point of a saga in which we find a after and a male version (Brother of Darkness), Daughter of Darkness isn’t the hardest Category III movie to watch. But its mixture of violence, rape and incest makes its key scene particularly shocking, and it also owes its classification to the sequences with its libidinous policeman which aim, in hollow, to criticize the abuses of power of the authorities of the Chinese communist system.
Devil Fetus (1983) by Hung-Chuen Lau
What is it about ? – During an auction, a young woman finds herself irresistibly attracted by a strange object, nothing less than an ancient magic dildo which will then make her pregnant. The diabolical fetus will then crack down.
The shock scene – Black magic and ghosts are on the program of this Devil Fetus, which is not the Hong Kong parody of The Exorcist as the synopsis may suggest. And it is difficult to determine the most horrific sequence, between that of the fetus which swells, bursts and lets the monster spring from the body of its mother. Or that moment in which a man rips the skin off his face and reveals the swarming maggots underneath.
Horrible High Heels by Wei-An Chen, Cheng Chow & Tsiang-Pang Mao (1996)
What is it about ? People are mysteriously disappearing in a Hong Kong neighborhood. At the same time, a store that makes shoes sees its leather stock and sales grow. Would there be a link? The police are investigating.
The shock scene – We saw the burgers made with human meat. Make way for shoes made with their skin. So it won’t take you long to figure out what Horrible High Heels has that’s most horrible: these home-made scalpel or bevel flayings which, if not as extreme as one might have feared, make you squeak some teeth and recall Chainsaw Massacre. Also note a scene a little olé olé involving a goose.
Intruder by Tsan Kan-Cheung (1997)
What is it about ? A mainland Chinese woman, Wu Chien-Lien, murders a Hong Kong prostitute in order to steal her passport, her identity and move into her place. She decides to bring her husband and kidnaps, to steal his papers, a taxi driver, Lai Yiu-Cheung. However, the driver’s mother and her 4-year-old daughter appear and risk jeopardizing his plans.
The shock scene – Sex and violence are aspects that can lead to a film being placed in Category III. But morality plays a role, especially in the case of this Intruder produced by Johnnie To. If the director will be entitled to this classification with Election and his afterthat was not necessarily the goal, unlike Intruder, where the heroes are the villains.
According to several analyses, the schizophrenic side of heroin can be seen as a metaphor for the loss of identity felt by Hong Kong at the dawn of its handover to China. And it is, as often, when it goes to extremes, that the film makes an impression. When he attacks the elderly and/or children, like here with little Yin Yin, whose fate did not fail to shock.
Fruit Chan’s New Kitchen (2004)
What is it about ? Ching Lee, a former star approaching 40, is determined to regain her former beauty to win back her unfaithful husband. She then turns to Mei, a charismatic cook who specializes in jiaozi, steamed dumplings typical of Chinese cuisine. Sold at exorbitant prices, Mei’s jiaozi, with their strange pinkish sheen, are renowned for their rejuvenating properties. Ching, desperate to regain her youth, does not care to know the ingredients of Mei’s secret recipe. Even if it means paying the high price later.
The shock scene – One of the few Category III horror feature films to make it to our theaters. First as the dirtiest segment in the aptly named sketch film 3 extremesreleased in 2005. Then in this long version, which reached our screens on February 1, 2006. To talk about abortion, social pressure or the bourgeoisie ready to do anything to keep its desires intact, New kitchen mixes dark humor and cannibalism.
Embryos are eaten there to keep sexual activity alive. Four-month-old fetuses are cut there with a mincer. And we gobble up funny ravioli, with bones that crackle under the tooth. Lovers of Top Chef type cooking shows are likely to turn pale before this trashy, violent and disturbing opus, but not meaningless.