Shocking Cinema: A Look Inside 6 Category III Films

Michelle and Andrew take a look at 6 distinctly disturbing Category III films. 

In 1988, the Hong Kong Motion Picture Ratings System introduced their equivalent of the restrictive NC-17 rating, Category III.  In definition, no one under 18 would be permitted to rent, purchase, or view this film in cinemas.  Primarily applying to films only made and released in Hong Kong, the rating initially applied retroactively to preexisting films made before the rating came into being.  After taking effect, the rating generally pertained towards films of a perversely violent and sexual nature.  In time, however, a new kind of cinema emerged with the rating, one which sailed so far over the top in terms of extreme violence, sex, rape, gore, depravity, cannibalism, you name it.  All bets are off once you sit to watch a Category III film.  Either deeply disturbing, sleazier than most pornos, or so completely insane you have to laugh, these are the kind of films you not only can’t believe you’re seeing unfold onscreen, but you find yourself curiously wanting more.  To give an introduction to some of the nuttiest, most profane, subversive and strangely hilarious films that only could have come out of this Hong Kong rating which is still growing strong today, The Movie Sleuth takes a look at six Category III films that would define an entire subgenre of Asian exploitation cinema.

"How about some head?"
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991 – directed by Lam Nai-Choi)

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is one of the most over-the-top and gory films that has roundhouse kicked its way out of Hong Kong. Based on a Japanese manga of the same name, Riki-Oh is an unusual martial arts flick with some of the craziest fight scenes that have ever been committed to celluloid. The main character Ricky (Fan Siu-wong) is basically an invincible demi-god (due to his extensive Kung Fu training) who gets put into a maximum security prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The prison is run by a fat, corrupt pig of a warden and his four gang leader flunkies. Ricky has to constantly fend off attacks from the gang leaders, each of which have super powers and abilities.

What sets this movie apart from other films in the genre is how brutal and violent it is. It’s reminiscent of the anime The Fist of the North Star with heads being crushed and abdomens being punched through. One inmate even slashes his own stomach open and tries to choke Ricky with his intestines!  That’s hardcore. The final fight is a blood and guts filled slaughterhouse and so completely outlandish that it circles around from stupid all the way back to awesome again. Everything is wrapped up with one of the most hilarious and craptastic English dubs that has ever been recorded. It literally sounds like three guys did all the voices and most of the dialog is nonsensical and random. This is a fun film that is perfect for a get-together with copious amounts of beer and open-minded friends.

"My hands are frozen.
Damn you Hoth."
Men Behind the Sun (1988 – directed by T.F. Mou)
Category III films are known for their unrelenting and shocking portrayals of the darkest recesses of the human mind. Men Behind the Sun is especially haunting because it depicts actual events that happened in Japanese history. During WWII, Japan had a secret experimentation camp known as Unit 731, where they committed terrible atrocities on the Chinese prisoners that were being held there. They purposely infected them with diseases, amputated limbs, did autopsies on them while they were still alive, exposed them to extreme heat and cold and other abominable acts—purely evil things that boggle the mind and destroy the spirit. The fact that these incidents really transpired should be enough to make anyone sick to their stomach.

Director T. F. Mou said he was trying to make a historically accurate account of the events during that time period, but the film ended up being so vile that it was relegated to exploitation status upon its release. It is indeed a very hard movie to stomach and it’s difficult to not be moved to tears by the callous treatment given to the prisoners. The make-up and effects are very well-done and realistic looking which adds a documentary style feel to the proceedings. It was banned outright in Japan and Australia when it was released and the director even received some threats to his life. Men Behind the Sun has the dubious honor of being the first Chinese film to get the Cat III rating and is thus the grandfather of all the films that followed.  It’s an incredibly difficult film to watch and should be approached with extreme caution. Some things can’t be unseen.

"Did you say FREE Taco Bell?"
Red to Kill (1994 – directed by Billy Tang Hin-Shing)
The subject of rape is one of the most delicate issues that can be touched upon in a film. Usually it is handled with great care and responsibility, but Red to Kill does not have such lofty goals. This film is perverted, exploitative, disgusting and has rape scenes that are intended to be arousing or titillating. To be sure, most people won’t enjoy watching this movie, but it definitely was made to appeal to a small depraved demographic. The story concerns a man who owns a home for mentally challenged children—however, he has a dark secret. Whenever he sees the color red, it turns him in to a maniac and a serial rapist! He rapes one of the students in the home and her social worker decides to take justice into her own hands. This concept sounds silly, and it is played for laughs to a degree--the actor who plays the rapist is absurd and is practically frothing at the mouth like a cartoon character.

Overall, it’s a tasteless and crass film with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  Red to Kill scrapes the bottom of the depravity barrel, and that’s saying a lot with the amount of truly indecent Cat III flicks that have been produced. Perhaps if the sex scenes hadn’t been so smutty and the production values just a little bit higher it would have had more of a reason to exist other than for perverse gratification. The female protagonist could have been fleshed out more—these types of films work better if the offended woman gets her revenge in the end. I can’t really recommend it for casual viewing but if for some reason you are a completest (or a sadist) it might warrant a cursory glance.

"Why do I look so shocked?
Well, let me tell you a story."
The Untold Story (1993 – directed by Herman Yau)
The Untold Story is one of the most unexpectedly shocking and difficult Category III films one can possibly sit through.  Loosely based on the true story of Macau’s most notorious serial killer, Herman Yau’s award winning shocker crime drama stars Anthony Wong as Wong Chi Hang, a murder fugitive from Hong Kong.  Hiding from justice by working within a restaurant in Macau, Wong murders the restaurant owner and his family before stealing their business.  Anyone who questions or suspects him of foul play turn up dead, with Wong conveniently disposing of the body parts through a meat grinder which he winds up cooking and serving to his customers.  Meanwhile police grow suspicious of Wong given the disappearance of the family behind the restaurant and body parts start turning up. 

On the one hand, The Untold Story accurately retells the Eight Immortals Restaurant incident in which Wong ruthlessly and brutally murdered an innocent family with multiple children before his subsequent conviction and prison suicide.  Anthony Wong, who took home the Best Actor Hong Kong Film Award, makes Wong into a completely despicable sociopath with no remorse or even a soul.  Scenes of the man ruthlessly murdering a family of screaming and crying children are undoubtedly the hardest, most difficult moments I’ve ever witnessed in a film, and I have to wonder just how it was pulled off without traumatizing the child actors.  On the other hand, the polarizing shocks (and there are many) are offset by uncharacteristically goofy comic relief in the police station, with three horny male officers hitting on a female officer working within the unit, including but not limited to scenes of the sheriff parading around a litany of prostitutes.  While funny, the scenes are at odds with the uncompromising portrait of Wong’s crimes, which are so extreme they can’t help but seep under this reader’s skin.  Overall a strong true crime film that packs one Hell of a punch but don’t say I didn’t warn you: this can be very upsetting to watch.

"I have to tell ya. You have
incredible balance!
A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994 – directed by Bosco Lam)
Bosco Lam’s A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is one of the funniest Category III movies a casual viewer can happen upon whose over the top onscreen sex and violence manages to elicit more laughs than gasps.  An ultraviolent soft porn comedy set during the Ching Dynasty in ancient China, Chinese Torture Chamber Story concerns a young female servant nicknamed Little Cabbage who is framed by a jealous Princess for the murder of a man and tortured for information in the court of law.  Told in present time during the torturous trial, the film jumps back and forth to tell Cabbage’s story of how her voyeuristic eavesdropping on her master Prince Yeung’s sexploits and an affair which would begin between Yeung and his hired hands. 

The simplicity of the love triangle plotline is secondary to Torture Chamber Story’s real aims, which are to parade over the top torture scenes which range from traditional Chinese mechanics to some genuinely wild sight gags which take their violence so far over the Moon they instantly achieve cartoonish lunacy.  Best known for its flying kung-fu sex scene, which plays like a porno parody of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is a Category III film that truly has it all and will give exploitation fans of the subgenre more than their money’s worth.  If that’s not enough, there’s an exploding penis, a mock horse with a wooden dildo, a “funny” rape scene, skin removal and a woman angry she doesn’t have bigger breasts.  Fans of The Toxic Avenger will be in Heaven with Torture Chamber Story’s litany of tongue-in-cheek chauvinism and shock vistas.  Not for the faint hearted or easily offended but not to be missed for some serious exploitation, one of a kind hilarity. 

"Don't MAKE ME bring out
the big knife."
Ebola Syndrome (1996 – directed by Herman Yau)
To say Herman Yau’s Ebola Syndrome is an insanely tasteless and remorseless shockfest would be too modest a description.  There aren’t enough adjectives to fit the bill or enough substances to abuse in order to fully digest the completely outrageous lunacy which ensues.  Following the success of Yau’s previous Category III shocker The Untold Story, Ebola Syndrome concerns Kai (Anthony Wong), a Hong Kong fugitive who flees into hiding within South Africa after murdering his boss and boss’ wife.  Working at a Chinese restaurant during his hiding, he and his employer stumble upon a tribe of natives infected with the Ebola virus.  After raping a dying native, Kai contracts the virus but winds up becoming an immune carrier, effectively spreading it among all he encounters.  From the get go, Ebola Syndrome makes no bones about what it is, an exploitation horror film with a gleeful desire to offend, titillate and dumbfound.  Whatever moral compasses exist in film, they’re nowhere to be found here.  Considered by fans of the short lived subgenre to be one of the craziest entries, Ebola Syndrome is chock full of ridiculously over the top violence as well as sex and nudity. 

Much like the director’s The Untold Story, there’s a fixation on disposing of evidence by feeding the bodies through a meat grinder and feeding it to patrons in a restaurant.  If that’s not enough, Ebola Syndrome also bears the distinction of being one of the more blatantly xenophobic with an exceptional cruelty towards animals.  Within the first ten minutes, Kai casually slices up living frogs before the camera within the Chinese restaurant kitchen, and the infected tribesman attempt to heal themselves by ripping the heads off of living chickens and anointing one another with their fresh blood.  One of the few Category III entries to actually be censored before the rating could be granted, Ebola Syndrome takes no prisoners and doesn’t mess around with its unmitigated delivery of shock, awe, and awkward, nervous laughter.    

-Andrew Kotwicki
-Michelle Kisner