Color, 1993, 95 mins. 49 sec.
Directed by Herman Yau
Starring Anthony Wong, Danny Lee, Emily Kwan, Lau Siu-ming, Shing Fui-On Unearthed Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Tai Seng (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1)
Few films in the history of Hong Kong's outrageous Category III films have enjoyed the international notoriety or acclaim as The Untold Story, a violent and twisted tale based on a real-life Macau murder spree involving cannibalism and mutilation known as the Eight Immortals Restaurant murders. Still harrowing and capable of eliciting shocked gasps today, this wild fusion of true crime, jarring comedy, and button-pushing culinary horror remains a landmark of its kind.
A complete psychopath, bespectacled Wong Chi-hang (Wong) is first seen torching a man over a money dispute before going on the lam and changing his identity, and years later, a squad of cops led by Inspector Lee (Lee, of course) investigates a batch of severed limbs washed up on a beach. The two narrative threads alternate as we see Wong working at the Eight Immortals Restaurant where he connives a way to seize ownership but, along the way, gets busted cheating by a waiter whom he brutally murders. After disposing of the remains in the restaurant's pork buns, Lee begins to close in and the horrible truth about the restaurant and its family of owners comes to light -- with more savagery and butchery along the way.
It goes without saying that Wong is really the star of the show here, pulling out all the stops with a maniacal performance that's impossible to forget. Though much of the film is played for varying degrees of laughs including goofy business with the cops, it goes dead serious where it counts including an outrageous scene involving the depraved misuse of chopsticks (on Category III star Julie Lee, who also briefly dabbled in full-on hardcore) and a climax that breaks some major taboos most Western directors still wouldn't touch. The actual imagery isn't as explicit as you might think on a shot-by-shot basis, but the cumulative effect is so depraved and unsettling that it's no wonder this managed to both outrage and impress viewers in equal measure.
This film first hit American shores on VHS and laserdisc from Tai Seng, followed by a 1999 DVD release early in the format's history featuring an okay but unspectacular 4x3 letterboxed transfer (with Cantonese and Mandarin tracks with yellow English subtitles) and a very funny menu designed like, well, a Chinese food menu. Extras on that release included trailers (for the main course, The Underground Banker, Mongkok Story, Ebola Syndrome, Organized Crime & Triad Bureau, Beast Cops, and Armageddon), two audio commentaries (with Wong, speaking with an unnamed Miles Wood about his career, and director Herman Yau), and filmographies for the director and both stars.
In 2020, Unearthed Films finally brought this one back into circulation with a drastically improved new HD scan (as separate Blu-ray and DVD editions) that makes for a very pleasing viewing experience. The sometimes extreme lighting with an emphasis on strong light sources finally doesn't turn into a gauzy heap of mush, and the details of skin textures, hair, and clothing are finally razor sharp, which also means this is even more upsetting when it comes to the nasty stuff. The LPCM 2.0 Cantonese and Mandarin mono tracks both sound healthy, though the Cantonese has the better mix and is the one with which most viewers are probably accustomed; optional English subtitles are provided, and the deal is sweetened with an isolated mono music track so you can just luxuriate in all its synthy glory. Both of the prior commentaries are ported over here, but you also get a spirited, sometimes hilarious, and well-informed audio commentary by Ultra Violent's Art Ettinger and Cinema Arcana's Bruce Holecheck that touches on the real story and its other (lesser) incarnations, the ins and outs of Category III cinema, connections to Dr. Lamb, and tons more. You also get three significant video extras starting with Calum Waddell's feature-length Category III: The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema (83m10s) , a massive overview of the topic from the '80s to the present with participants including Wong, Godfrey Ho, Gan Kwok-Leung, Josie Ho, and a host of critics and scholars (like Sean Tierney, Mike Hostench, James Mudge, and, uh, Bey Logan) whizzing through highlights like Dr. Lamb, the films of Amy Yip, Naked Killer, and Raped by Angel, as well as odd ones like Happy Together and the Election films. "Cantonese Carnage" (13m38s) features film expert Rick Baker (not the Oscar-winning makeup artist!) giving his own overview of the Category III phenomenon that would enjoy a short-lived but potent bout of international popularity, including his recollections of wrangling with the censors over some key titles. Finally, a Q&A with director Herman Yau (7m4s) at a film screening covers the differences between Hong Kong and mainland filmmaking and thoughts on his overall career. Two trailers are also included (Hong Kong and U.S) along with bonus ones for Famine, House of Flesh Mannequins, Nightwish, The Song of Solomon, and The Unnamable, while the first pressing of the Blu-ray features a slipcover and an insert with liner notes by Ettinger extrapolating further on the film's place in the Category III canon.