Unearthed Films: The Untold Story (1993) - Reviewed

The Untold Story (1993) was many a horror fan's first foray into the infamous Category III genre of Hong Kong exploitation film. Cat III is defined by the HK film industry as  "No persons younger than 18 years of age are permitted to rent, purchase, or watch this film in the cinema." On the surface this doesn't seem that strange, but unlike the R-rating in the US, the films that garnered the Cat III rating could essentially market themselves just from that designation. It became synonymous with lurid sex/nudity and extreme gore. When I was just starting to seriously explore collecting films in the late '90s, I would buy any and all films that had that snazzy Cat III triangle symbol on it sight unseen.

The plot of The Untold Story is based on a real case: the Eight Immortals Restaurant murders. A family of ten who worked in and owned a restaurant were brutally massacred by Huang Chih-heng, a man they owed money to from gambling debts. After he murdered them he dumped their bodies into the ocean and continued running the restaurant. The body parts washed up onto the shore a few days later and were discovered by swimmers who reported it to the police. They were unable to track them to the dead family until a year later at which point they arrested Huang. He eventually confessed to the murders and committed suicide in prison shorty afterwards.

As gruesome as this story is, this film definitely sensationalizes it somewhat and leans into the urban legend that Huang cooked the family he murdered into the pork dumplings that the restaurant served. In the film Huang is called Wong Chi-hang and is played by a completely manic and sinister Anthony Wong and it's his most remembered role—one that he even won an award for. It's hard to describe just how intense and out there his performance is, with his sweaty wild eyed stare caught behind giant glasses and his propensity for horrific violent acts. Wong is a truly disgusting individual that takes great pleasure in rape, torture, and killing.

Tonally, The Untold Story is all over the place, and it mixes slapstick situational comedy with some of the most horrible murders ever captured on film. The narrative goes between a group of super goofy cops trying to track Wong down and Wong perpetrating heinous acts. It's impossible to get used to either tone because it switches back and forth constantly. One minute the audience is watching the one of the cops trying to fingerprint rotten dismembered hands, which is played for laughs, and the next minute they are being subjected to Wong raping a woman by inserting a handful of chopsticks into her vagina. There is no warning when it will switch gears like this. It reminds me quite a bit Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972) which employs a similar dynamic. Perhaps it was an attempt to give viewers a mental break in between the savage sequences, but it's just extremely off-putting. This is something that crops up often in HK cinema, I have noticed.

The transfer on Unearthed Film's release is pristine and it is the best I have ever seen the film look! I'm used to it looking like a third generation VHS copy and it's fantastic we have companies giving these kinds of films lavish physical releases. The feature length documentary in the extras, Category 3, The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation, doesn't offer too much new information for people who are already familiar with the genre, but it has some compelling interviews on it. It was surprising to see that Anthony Wong doesn't have much fondness for his stint as a Cat III "hero" and that he views it as more a means to an end, but even though he seems a bit put off, he gives out a lot of great behind-the-scenes information.

Those who are looking to dabble in Cat III films for the first time would do well to pick up this release because they can see a classic and check out the documentary as well.

--Michelle Kisner

Bonus Materials

The Documentary, Category 3, The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation

Cantonese Carnage, an Interview with Rick Baker

Commentary with Herman Yau

Commentary with Anthony Wong

Commentary with Art Ettinger and Bruce Holecheck