Red To Kill (1994) (Remastered)

Directed by Billy Tang Hin Shing

Produced by Kimmy Suen King On

Starring Lily Chung Suk Wai, Money Lo Man Yee, Ben Ng Ngai Cheung, Bobby Yip King Sang

Red To Kill (Remastered)

Man I must be getting jaded in my advancing years! When I first saw this film back in 1994, I wrote a scathing review of it for "Eastern Heroes" decrying it as the nastiest effort Billy Tang, and the Category III classification, had ever produced. Nearly a decade on, Tang's uber-shocker doesn't nearly disturb me as much as it first did (it's still pretty heavy going), and I can actually appreciate it for the horrifying cult classic that it is. Oh well, what did Bart Simpson once say? If you don't watch violence how do you ever expect to become desensitised to it? I guess there's just been far too much grue under the bridge in the years between my initial encounter with this film, and my latest revisitation of it.

The plot is fairly simple, and from memory was lifted from the headlines that plagued the Hong Kong press at the time (the Tuen Mun rapist and suburban outrage over a home for the mentally handicapped being approved near housing estates). Anyhoo, on to business…a serial rapist is terrorising a low cost housing block in one of Hong Kong's less affluent suburbs. This has caused outrage with the locals, as a respite for the handicapped is located in the same building and narrow mindedness has dictated that the two incidences must be related. Into this urban state of unrest is thrust socially challenged youngster Kong Yuk Ming (Chung), a sweet natured darling who has been handed over to state care on the untimely passing of her father. She quickly fits into her new surrounds, gaining the heart-felt love of social worker Cheung Ka Lok (Lo). She also catches the eye of ever so creepy caretaker Chan Chi Wai (Ng). As times passes, Ming's disarming innocence endears her to all around her, however the terrifying rapist continues his shocking reign of assaults unabated.

It comes as no surprise that the only person who fits the physique of the monstrous violator is the outwardly placid Chan. Haunted by the mindless slaughter of his own family, stemmed from jealous rage, Chan is triggered by the colour red, and when Ming performs a ballet for her classmates clad in a silken RED dress it can only be a matter of time before he snaps. And snap he does, but no matter what you may have seen before "Red To Kill", nothing can prepare you for the mind-boggling orgy of sexual and personal violence that ensues in the wake of Chan's mental disintegration. After the brutal assault on Ming by Chan, and a failed court case against him, it remains for Cheung to exact revenge against the most giddily depraved villain cinema has given birth.

Watching Tang's film is akin to getting involved in a bar-fight and coming off second best. You know it's wrong, it hurts like hell, and it leaves you nursing bruises for days later in its aftermath. "Red To Kill's" primary strength lies in its director Billy Tang, working from an amazingly strong (in all senses of the word) script by Wong Ho Wah. It's not just one terrifying setpiece after another per the usual genre fare, as Tang structures a solid dramatic back story to bounce his powerfully disturbing visuals off of. Additionally, he draws devastatingly strong performances from his trio of lead actors, capturing a quality that makes it virtually impossible for the viewer to distant themselves from the onscreen horrors. As she did in '94, and still does now, Lily Chung's central performance as Ming blew me away. She is wholly believable, deeply affecting, and deftly empathetic. Even hardened genre fans will shed tears over her character's miserable plight. Ben Ng is staggering as serial rapist Chan, his Jekyll and Hyde performance screaming to be seen to be disbelieved. Even Money Lo, who is often underused in throwaway roles, shines under Tang's commanding hand.

Of the much-touted sexual violence, the film is virtually indefensible from that aspect, the very idea of sexual assault committed against a handicapped girl being thoroughly repulsive and sick beyond human reason. However, this is slick exploitation and individual prejudices must be put aside to tackle the film objectively from a genre standpoint if one is to endure the terrors Tang's film presents in unflinching detail. The guidance is simple, if in doubt do not watch. Of the remainder, John Wong orchestrates another evocative score that enhances the emotion of the piece, elevating passages of the film way above heart-rending intensity. Miu Kin Fai's colour keyed cinematography paints striking imagery, ultimately creating a bold, stylistic atmosphere to Tang's powerhouse direction. I'm not about to bullshit anybody over this one, if your stomach's cast of iron then you most certainly will be harder pressed to encounter a more graphic, or shocking excursion into the mind of a monster. Don't expect not to be horrified.

Universe's remastered disc is a vast improvement over Ocean Shores original shambolic release, correcting the aspect ratio as well as offering optional subtitles and a markedly improved image clarity (bit of a worry, that). As with Ocean Shores original disc, this is a similarly uncensored edition of Tang's magnum opus, albeit with the detail, colour, and general quality anted up considerably. Well, anted up to the point where a film of this one's outrageous reputation should never have had any right to look this good. But it does, and for the sake of sanity I am not about to complain (if I did it would just point towards being the wrong person for this review). John Wong's score sounds crisp and relatively distortion free, augmenting the visuals with the usual level of melodramatic resonance he affords these things. If the name sounds familiar, it should (check the other Cat III reviews around here) as Wong hit his stride in the early nineties after scoring Tang & Danny Lee's horror classic "Doctor Lam". But anyway, if you've been used to Ocean Shores original DVD release, you're going to want to use it as a beer coaster once you've upgraded to Universe's remaster!

There's precious little more I can say about Tang's toughest film. It is relentless, affecting, nihilistic, and phenomenally grim. It is also one of the most daring works of Hong Kong horror cinema, powerful and disgustingly unique. There has never been a film like it (outside of the underground), and I very much doubt there will EVER be another film like it again. Steel your nerves, turn down the lights, and let the unsettling atmosphere wash over you. Once it sucks you in to its twisted universe, there is no escape or reprieve…short of your remote's "Stop" button. You may just find yourself using it sooner than you think.

Review by M.C.Thomason

Released by Universe Laser & Video
Category III - Region 0
Running time - 91m (packaging lists 96m)
Ratio - Widescreen 1.85
Audio - Dolby 1.0
Extras :