The Untold Story (1993)
By: Mr Intolerance on March 19, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Tai Seng (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). Cantonese DD 2.0 Mono, Mandarin DD 2.0 Mono. English Subtitles. 95 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Herman Yau, Danny Lee
Starring: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Danny Lee, Tony Leung Siu Hung, Emily Kwan, Julie Lee, Fui-On Shing, Parkman Wong
Screenplay: Law Kam Fai
Country: Hong Kong
AKA: Baat sin faan dim ji yan yuk cha siu bau, Bunman: The Untold Story, Human Meat Pies: The Untold Story, Untold Story: Human Meat Roast Pork Buns
I knew I was going to dig this film when a guy got doused with gas and set fire to and there were multiple uses of the word "fuck" within the first two minutes.

This is one of those films that could only come from Hong Kong, combining good straight acting, absurd Jackie Chan-style humour, and extreme violence. It's a weird blend but it works very well, presenting us with a pretty grim tale told with lashings of uber-black humour.

The really horrible part of this film is that the basis is a true story, which made me feel a bit guilty laughing at parts of it, and left me wondering what the families of the victims made of it. However, actor Anthony Wong did win a Best Actor award for his portrayal of the arch-nutcase villain, so I guess there couldn't have been many protests when it came out.

The basic plot of The Untold Story revolves around all-round psycho Wong, who has murdered the owners of the Eight Immortals restaurant so that he can get his greasy mitts on it. As the story unfolds further, we learn that not only did he kill them, but to remove the evidence, he put their flesh through a mincer and used it as filling in his bar-be-que pork buns, a fate which befalls many other characters in this film – basically, anyone who gets in his way.

The scenes of violence as Wong knocks off his victims are pretty damn harsh - brutal, in fact - but are oddly off-set with the comedic utterly inept police, who don't even appear to be a serious threat to his actions until the last half an hour or so. Damn strange film in that regard. The shift in tone once the heat is on Wong is marked and surprising – there are still a few moments of comedic inanity, but they're much more sporadic than they were. Back to the violence though: my pick for most horrible scene would have to be the rape, vaginal mutilation (via a fistful of chopsticks – a teeth-sucking moment if there ever was one) and ultimate death of one of Wong's female employees, who he thinks has ratted him out to the cops. There is no laughter here, let me tell you.

I don't dig the comedy. I can kind of take it in a Jackie Chan flick, but I'm not keen when it's in a horror flick. In terms of horror comedy, I'll stomach Shaun of the Dead (surely one of the greatest movies ever), the Evil Dead flicks, early Peter Jackson films, and little else. Much more than that and I'm almost guaranteed to hate it worse than musical theatre (Cannibal! The Musical and Evil Dead the Musical being the obvious exceptions). This is slapstick, and not terribly good slapstick at that. It also mimics the Chan style jokes – the inept police who are utterly clueless, the comical flirting between characters, all the kind of stuff we saw in Armour of God and Police Story many moons before this. The only purpose I guess it serves is to provide light relief, because believe me, on the occasions we get to see Wong 'at work' – you need light. There's some particularly nasty footage towards the end of the film after Wong's arrest and subsequent imprisonment (you know, the whole prison justice thing) – unpleasant doesn't begin to come near it - and the absence of the Keystone Kops stupidity makes the whole thing unspeakably grim. You almost feel sympathy for Wong at the inescapability of his plight. Then you remember the scene where he kills an entire family, including young children. Sympathy gone.

So, what did I think? I liked it. The comedy did grate on me at times, because to me, it spoilt the tension. It could have been so much nastier without the comedy, and more realistic, too. It also seemed kind of disrespectful to the families of the dead, cheapening their families' suffering. There's no laugh track to Men Behind the Sun, for example. Still, it's most definitely worth a watch, if only for Anthony Wong's performance, which is noteworthy. Like Lothar Schramm before him, there's no Hannibal Lecter urbanity to this killer, he's just a cold, paranoid and opportunistic bastard who explodes into literally murderous rages when provoked.

Which is often.
Video
Not the greatest. A fair amount of grain (although apparently not as much as the Hong Kong version, which is a scary thought…), but still watchable, although you do notice it. That aside, this could really use restoring from the original negative.
Audio
It's not great, but it's okay – you kind of expect better on DVD. Having said that though, because I was reading rather than hearing the words, my concentration wasn't fully engaged with the soundtrack.
Extra Features
There's an audio commentary by director Herman Yau, and another with actor Anthony Wong and film critic Miles Wood, and filmographies of the actors and director (did you know Anthony Wong has recorded some metal albums which were the first ones in Hong Kong to get slapped with warning labels because of bad language? Excellent!). There are also a number of cool trailers for the following: The Underground Banker, Mongkok Story, Ebola Syndrome, Cop Image, Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, Beast Cops, Armageddon and, naturally, The Untold Story. By the way, the last two trailers aren't subtitled, but all the others are.
The Verdict
A very fine film, which despite a few flaws (the portrayal of the police as a bunch of self-aggrandising clowns being the main offender – for which I knocked off a point), manages to jolt, unsettle and, at times, genuinely disturb its audience. You definitely need to watch this film, if for no other reason, to witness Anthony Wong's performance as the psychotic nut-job Wong. Believe me, you won't be disappointed.
Movie Score
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