Laboratory of the Devil (1992)
By: Dr. Obrero on April 18, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Force Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.77:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0 Mono. 91 minutes
The Movie
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Gong Chu, Yuen-Ching Leung, Wan Ying Ying, Aldrew Yu
Country: Hong Kong
AKA: Men Behind the Sun 2; Hei tai yang 731 xu ji zhi sha ren gong chang

On November 17, 2000, a diminutive, unassuming man in a nondescript suit took the stand in Tokyo's District Court 103. For the next two hours he held a stunned courtroom rapt with details of atrocities that made the Nuremberg testimonies pale in comparison. In the days between the Sino-Japanese war and World War II, this man, Yoshio Shinozuka, was a member of 731 Squadron (the Japanese chemical and biological warfare division headquartered in a Japanese-occupied section of northern China) Junior Youth Corps. Until then, many had doubted the authenticity of director T. F. Mous' Man Behind the Sun, a documentary style picture based upon the actions of 731 Squadron denouncing it as a sick, sadistic fantasy. However, what transpired reveals that the director had actually kept the vilest atrocities from the screen. Some time ago in another review, I noted that despite the mayhem and utter depravity on display in films such as Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and Bloodsucking Freaks, they were so ineptly made as to lack any real power to shock. The Chinese made Man Behind the Sun on the other hand proved a shattering, powerful document and a seminal film within Far Eastern cinema.

Set circa WW II, Man Behind the Sun revolved around the headquarters of the infamous 731 Squadron: a Japanese experimentation facility - the Nippon equal to Dachau, Auswitz and Buchenwald concentrating upon test, study and development of chemical and bacteriological weapons, as well as a training / proving ground for a burgeoning Japanese military youth movement - the Japanese equivalent to the Third Reich's Hitler Youth. Its key function though was to study the effectiveness of biological weapons that the land of the rising sun had hoped to develop and use to turn the tide of WW II. The inmates and prisoners, many of whom are named during the movie's course are primarily Chinese and Malay, with a smattering of other prisoners (including Russians) and are known to their captors as Maruta - apparently meaning a log for the fire, or in this case logs for the ongoing terrible experiments, designed both to develop deadly bacterial-plagues and discover the limits to human endurance and when the body can be subjected to, all of which, as with the Ilsa pics are seemingly driven by the insanity of one commander, the committedly sadistic supremo of 731 Shiro Ishii - a patriotic psychotic with a compulsion for humiliation and a hatred for his charges who had actually been demoted for corruption in 1943. The story is balanced and given some humanity by the incorporated tales of Ishiguro, one of the youth corps, conflicted; simultaneously a rabid nationalist who takes to the concept of the Maruta as inhuman experimental fodder and yet befriends a young mute local boy, who later meets a horrific fate and a subplot involving the youth corps growing disillusionment with the savagery of their commander. This plot convergence strengthens the film as a whole, since the negativity without the humanistic element wouldn't be as devastating. A landmark picture, Man Behind the Sun was made by ex-pat Japanese in Hong Kong and its conception formed something of a catharsis for those behind the project. Genuinely shocking and memorable, it is an authentic gaze into the mouth of Hades and such scenes as a live cat being thrown into a room full of very large rats "mondo movie" fashion and the joys of "the frostbite experiment" are not easily dismissed from the mind. When taken with the fact that the film forms an admittance of the deeds portrayed, something the Japanese have been highly reticent to do thus far it is a picture of considerable note.

The sequels however are a different story, exploitative, boring in equal measure, and clearly made as a "cash in" they manage that least forgivable [in Japanese eyes] sin of dishonouring that original with their throwaway plotting and phoney piousness. Laboratory of the Devil is a major offender.

Framed by a negligible wraparound having something to do with a reunion supposedly at the behest of some Western female character who (I think) wants to restart the experiments, this apallingly made waste of time and effort purports to tell pretty much the same tale as Ho's original, only it does it in far less successful fashion. Words such as inept, incompetent comical – an effect largely brought about by the hysterical dubbing and the surreal effect of these Japanese performers apparently uttering American slang in Midwestern accents - and lamentable come to the forefront of one's mind when sitting through this pile of unadulterated garbage. It really is one of the most abysmal pictures this reviewer has ever sat through.

The films violence is largely muted and less extreme than its predecessors, though still none too pleasant if largely dissipated by the phoney nature of the effects. The whole thing looks desperately fake, indeed the efx throughout suggest that it was amateur hour on this front. Bloodless cheap shocks will ensure that this witless farrago fails to even appeal to the stupid narrow-minded denizens of the braindead gorehound fraternity. The overwrought acting on view tends is truly atrocious, the scripting is abysmal and the direction incompetent.
The disc from Force Entertainment is mundane affair; non-anamorphic, shot through with grain, plagued by artifcating and not without noticeable blemishes.
The mono audio is clean, but undistinguished. At least this means you can hear the hysterically incompetent dubbing.
Extra Features
The Verdict
Execrable. Avoid like the plague, unless you're inebriated or in the mood for something slightly sicker in the redubbed vein of What's Up Tiger Lily?
Movie Score
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