Here we go again. Every year or two, a few people contract a legitimately scary and horrible sickness and suddenly the media puts the entire country on high alert. In just the last few years, we’ve had SARS, avian bird flu, West Nile Virus and now Ebola. Things have played out roughly the same every time. The media stirs up a panic and even some politicians callously exploit that fear to secure votes or funding. In every case, we are all going to die and in every case we don’t because the truth of these illnesses is they are a dash of tragedy with large portions of fear and hype heaped on top.
This isn’t even the first time Ebola has been the instrument of our eventual destruction. In the 1990s, there was a similar case of hysteria that reached global levels. We didn’t know as much back then and we were even less successful at treating the disease than we are now. It was probably too much of a hot button issue for even exploitation producers to touch. That is, except for the then-thriving Hong Kong market.
During the 1980s and leading up to the Chinese handover in 1997, Hong Kong was experiencing a cinematic renaissance. There were some beautiful films coming out of the island nation. There was also a lot of great exploitation in everything from martial arts to horror. What was different about Hong Kong was their fearlessness. They would go further than most. Stunts that put the rest of the world to shame? Sure, why not? And few films went farther than the CAT III films.
The Hong Kong Rating System was introduced in 1988 to address parent concerns over the explicit nature of many of the country’s films. CAT III was the most severe rating to be granted under the system. Children under 18 were forbidden from renting, purchasing or watching CAT III films. The unintended consequences of this, and the polar opposite of say America’s NC-17 rating, was that producers scrambled to make films filled with explicit sex and violence so they could flaunt the CAT III rating with pride. To be fair, some CAT III films were tasteful, such as Wong Kar-Wai’s HAPPY TOGETHER. But for every one of them, you had RAPED BY AN ANGEL, SEX AND ZEN, MEN BEHIND THE SUN and so many others. To this day, it’s hard to find films as crass, gross or unrelentingly exploitative as those original CAT III films.
One of the most notorious films to carry the rating was 1996’s EBOLA SYNDROME. Herman Yau’s film flaunted bad taste as much as it pushed the buttons of hysterical public.
When we first see Kai (Anthony Wong, who had recently won awards for Yau’s CAT III film THE UNTOLD STORY), he’s having sloppy sex with a mob boss’ wife. The husband comes home and tries to force Kai to castrate himself, but Kai instead kills the boss and his henchman before murdering the wife as well. The couple’s young daughter has seen the whole thing and Kai douses her with gasoline, ready to set her on fire before he is called away.
Kai escapes to South Africa, where he is hired as the head chef in a restaurant that pays him slave wages. The cheap boss won’t pay full price for a pig, so he instead ventures with Kai to fetch a pig from one of the nearby tribes. The tribe has been plagued with the Ebola virus and the corpses are piled up like cordwood. Kai spies a topless woman by the river. He rapes her and as she begins to seize up in the throes of Ebola agony (the film doesn’t seem to understand the disease, nor does it care), he bashes her head in.
When Kai gets back to the restaurant, he is on the verge of death. But the fever miraculously passes. As a doctor explains in the film, roughly one in 10,000 people will be immune to the virus, but they will become a carrier who can infect others. And without knowing he has the virus, Kai does infect dozens of people – some in South Africa and others when he returns to Hong Kong. A police detective tries to hunt Kai down before he can cause a global pandemic. And just for good measure, the grown-up daughter of Kai’s first victims is on his trail too.
EBOLA SYNDROME is disgusting and is made more disgusting by the performance of Anthony Wong. His Kai is a man with pride who nonetheless is a subhuman mongrel of a human being. He rapes and murders and always complains the world is bullying him. Every time he sleeps with a hooker, spits on someone or even sneezes, the viewer is filled with a sinking feeling of dread. Kai is a complete degenerate and the question is how many people he will drag down to Hell with him.
EBOLA SYNDROME has no sense of decency whatsoever, which is what films like this are all about. Men, women and even children are slaughtered throughout the film and the viewer would be forgiven for wondering if the filmmakers had any sort of conscience. But of course they do and don’t forget that we love our trash at Moviocrity. Just because the film purposely goes further in terms of sex, violence and all around bad taste doesn’t mean the film isn’t made well. Yau is a talented filmmaker who has directed dozens of films, most recently a couple installments in the successful IP MAN series.
The main problem in EBOLA SYNDROME is one of the objects of its pride. It’s so unrelenting that we never get any respite from the constant cycle of suffering. Instead of being a cathartic experience, we wind up being exhausted and never feeling any differently than we did in the first scenes of the film. But it is quite a ride. Recommended.
RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA
- What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
- In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.