The Untold Story

Serial Killer - Hong Kong style

by Donato Totaro Volume 1, Issue 9 / November 1997 4 minutes (765 words)

The Untold Story: Bun Man is a cracker of a serial killer film, Hong Kong style. Which means it is laced with shards of black humour and snippets of juvenile comedy (stuff in the cop station). Fortunately, the juvenile comedy is long forgotten by the time the intense ending arrives. Sino-germanic actor Anthony Wong is (perhaps too) convincing as a crazed psychopath who makes Hannibal Lecter look like a crossing street guard. Right from the first close-up’s of Wong we see straight through his eyes into his monstrous soul. Like in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer there is little moralizing and psychological probing into the killer’s motives.

Director Lai-to weaves a clever narrative structure that wickedly toys with the audience’s emotions. Like Fritz Lang in M , Lai-to achieves the near-impossible task of making his audience sympathize with such a despicable character. But Lai-to goes one further than Lang by adding a twist. We first see the killer, Mr. Wong, commit three brutal murders, one worse than the next. The first is a head bashing/setting on fire of a co-worker (in Hong Kong); the second an employee whom he stabs in the eye with a check holder, bludgeons to death with a ladle, dismembers (for the benefit of medical students), then cooks into “pork-buns” which he then gives to the police!; the third murder is of a suspicious female employee whom he viciously beats, rapes with chop sticks and then mutilates into “pork-buns” (a la Sweeny Todd). This third murder, with its misogyny and mix of sex and violence, comes very close to crossing the line between horror and exploitation (violence beyond narrative, thematic or character development purpose). However, I give Tai-love some benefit because the sex is not eroticized and the killer does not derive any pleasure from the act of violence. It’s almost as if he’s doing it out of some perverse sense of self-prophecy.

At this point that audience sees him as a human monster. Some eight years since the first murder, he’s moved to Mainland China and is the owner of a restaurant, which he claims he purchased from the previous owner, Mr. Cheng. The police soon discover that the Cheng family never left China (as Mr. Wong claimed) and suspect Mr. Wong of unlawful conduct. To extract a confession from him, the Chinese police begin an unrelenting campaign of psychological and (mainly) physical torture. They first beat him silly at the police station and then set him up in a prison where the murdered Mr. Cheng’s brother is incarcerated. The next several scenes of the killer being mercilessly beat by gangs of fellow prisoners are extremely hard to watch, perhaps harder than the actual murders. The brutal police tactics continue in the hospital, where even a nurse joins in on the sadistic fun by using Mr. Wong’s ass and back as a needle cushion (so he can’t sleep).

Mr. Wong finally cracks after he is kept awake for days without sleep. At this point the title becomes subtly ironic. Is the “untold story” Mr. Wong’s heinous crimes or the police brutality? Just as we’ve begun to feel sympathy for the killer, he finally admits to the murders and director Lai-to cuts to a flashback of the actual event. The flashback is brutal and dark. There are no cuts back to the present, no comic reprieve. In what seems like an eternity, we see Mr. Wong hold the whole family hostage, husband, wife and five or six little girls. He ties them up and forces the husband to watch him rape, disfigure and murder his wife and slit one of his daughter’s throats before doing in the husband and then rest of the girls with a huge meat cleaver. Blood and limbs are strewn everywhere. As a sick topper he brings the unknowing grandmother to the carnage before bludgeoning her to death! Before this scene is halfway through we’ve forgotten about the police brutality and want this guy killed in the most painful way imaginable. Our sympathies are not back entirely with the police, but definitely away from Mr. Wong. In the end Mr. Wong deprives the police of saving face by slitting his wrists with a can lid he stole from an officer’s soda pop can. The film ends on a freeze frame of the killer, with no cathartic murder or trial prosecution. We are left limply to think about both Mr. Wong and the police. Not very comforting considering their conduct during the film!

<i>The Untold Story</i>

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 1, Issue 9 / November 1997 Film Reviews   anthony wong   category 3   cult cinema   genre_horror   hong kong cinema   horror  

Also in Volume 1, Issue 9