Come on in, the water's tasty...
The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story (1993)
Dir. Danny Lee and Herman Lau, Hong Kong, 96 mins
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we're paddling back towards an area that has a strange feel of familiarity to it – oh yes, it's all suddenly looking very cannibalistic again. Welcome to The Untold Story, apparently based on true events that took place in 1985. This one comes with a heavy reputation for violence, gore and rape – often featured on 'most disturbing movies' lists, I was fascinated to see whether this particular movie lived up to its notoriety.
The answer? Well, yes and no. I can certainly see where the air of controversy has come from, and one of the scenes late into the movie was undoubtedly an absolute eye-opener. But for me, as a whole, The Untold Story is in the habit of undermining itself with terrible acting and dreadfully forced comedy. Much of that comes from the police investigators in the case – Officer Lee turns up at the start of the movie to a beach where a dismembered body has been found with a hooker in tow, with this juniors on the team perennially gawping and attempting to chat up his latest date. As a joke, it wears thin in seconds but unfortunately is replicated many times throughout the movie. The other running joke among the officers concerns their only female member, Bo, and her cack-handed attempts to impress her superior and the 'gags' surrounding her much more plain clothing and make-up. This film was made in the 90s but the cops feel all too Benny Hill - their grating antics do nothing to help things along.
The case they end up investigating centres on Wong Chi Hang, the owner of the Eight Immortals, a man who took over the restaurant in mysterious circumstances eight years beforehand and is attempting to gain legal ownership of the establishment. The previous owner and his family vanished and have not been since since that time – can you see where this might be headed? The bumbling cops eventually manage to cast aside their moronic shenanigans long enough to link Chi Hang to the disappearances, but the case is not an easy one to prove, and requires some desperate measures...
It's the latter part of the film that really tries to up the shock value, with the experiences of police brutality and in turn the awful treatment that Chi Hang gets once he is sent to jail. The fact that a member of his victim's family is waiting there for him certainly doesn't help, and the retelling and re-enactment of the murder that our anti-hero commits is presented in horrific and lingering detail. That takes in the murder of a whole family and an awful rape scene that threatens for a few moments to become utterly unwatchable before descending into the same realms of exaggeration that hampers the film elsewhere.
It all feels a matter of what might have been with this one – Anthony Chau-Sang Wong in fact won Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for this one, and while he was certainly committed to the role of Chi Hang it's hard to say it's a great and compelling performance. It lacks the true dark comedy of something like Human Centipede III or Shudder! He Never Dies, and doesn't really hit the beats in terms of shock value because of the overly forced humour. With a foot in both camps, it's not anywhere near as effective as it could have been.
RATING: 4/10. A pretty average experience, verging on frustrating, loaded with infuriating characters and B-movie absurdity spliced with content that could have been shocking were it not so overdone. More miss than hit, so it's a slightly stomach-turning 4/10 all told.
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