Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ebola Syndrome (1996)

Written by: Ting Chau
Directed by: Herman Yau
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Kai
Meng Lo as the Boss
Yeung-Ming Wan as Yeung

I don't remember exactly where I first read about ebola, but I know it was around junior high school when all the computers got wired up with this newfangled thing called the internet and we spent every study hall and free period just roaming around search engines hoping to find something cool that wouldn't set off content alarms. James Lileks's Gallery of Regrettable Foods was a big hit as was the Institute for the Easily Amused. And then we discovered that if you searched through Yahoo's pre-sorted website categories, there was a tab marked “Humor.” And if you clicked that there were subcategories of humor, and among them another tab marked “Tasteless.” Readers of a certain age know exactly where this is going. Who can forget one of the earliest – and still one of the greatest – webcomics, “Mr. T Ate My Balls” and its many spinoffs and copycats (and now I realize that the world, whether it knows it or not, needs a Cinemasochist Apocalypse Ate My Balls strip)? Surely I'm not the only one out there who clubbed a seal for world peace. It's where I learned that John Denver's favorite drink is Ocean Spray. And somewhere in this warped mess that probably helps explain the parts of my sense of humor that aren't accounted for by Monty Python, Red Green, and MST3K, there must have been a page devoted to ebola, because I distinctly remember the phrase, “So many nifty special effects in one little package of RNA”, although I can't remember now where I saw it.

That brings us to tonight's movie. I won't delve too deep into the specifics of Cat III Hong Kong movies, as it's been done better elsewhere. I'll just say that they're unlike any other type of exploitation movie you've ever seen. They'll give you whiplash trying to keep up with the tone changes from horror to sex to comedy to any combination of the three and back again. They pack enough gristly punch and are filled with enough weird shit to turn the stomach of your average movie goer, but they can be a frustrating experience if all you're looking for is visceral thrills because they often take lengthy departures from angry witches turning people into giant schlongs or disgruntled employees raping everyone they see full of ebola, to engage in fairly boring drama or comedy that is frequently abrasively unfunny to Western audiences (at least those Western audiences who wish everyone involved in making those fucking Grown Ups movies would wind up on the receiving end of a vengeful cock full of hemorrhagic fever).

Herman Yau is an insanely prolific director, most famous for either Human Pork Buns: The Untold Story, or the recent Ip Man movies, or both, depending on the kind of film circles you run in. It's pretty amazing what a guy can do with a little money and a high-def camera because those Ip Man movies look like a million bucks and the aforementioned flick as well as tonight's movie...well...

The scene is set when we meet Kai screwing his boss's wife. The boss comes home early and catches them at it, threatening to cut off Kai's dick with a pair of scissors (threats of dick violence are a recurring theme). Feigning subservience, Kai offers to cut his own dick off so the great boss doesn't have to lower himself to such an unworthy task. The boss, so sure of his dominance, hands Kai the scissors. This, as you may imagine, goes poorly for all involved. Kai slaughters nearly the whole family and is just about to set the boss's young daughter on fire after dousing her with some kind of accelerant when he's interrupted by a delivery man, or maybe a concerned neighbor, or something. A lot of the characters aren't named often if at all and IMDB is nearly useless for this movie.

Ten years later, Kai is hiding from the law in Johannesburg, working as a cook at a Chinese restaurant. He splits his time pretty evenly between getting in fights with his current boss's wife and getting drunk while complaining to the one person who can stomach his company enough to be considered a friend that he's tired of fucking the same whore every night but none of the other ones in town will give him the time of day. After an unsuccessful attempt at soliciting some nookie gets him kicked out of the bar, he returns to his crummy little apartment above the restaurant, cuts a slit in a porkchop, and fucks it while he listens to his boss boffing his wife in the apartment next door. The scene where returns to the kitchen with the pork chop, sniffs it, rubs it around in his hands a little to thin out the spooge and tosses it back in the fridge is one of the funniest parts of the movie.

I know what you're thinking. Didn't he say the comedy in this kind of movie usually wasn't funny? Yes, I did say that, and when I watched this flick for the first time a couple of years back, I remember thinking it was slow and boring and unfunny. This is why watching subtitled movies while hammered out of your skull isn't a good idea. Ebola Syndrome is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, you kind of have to be a horrible asshole to see the humor in the situations, but...well...have you met me?

Anyway, the real trouble starts when one day Kai's boss decides he's tired of the Afrikaner butcher he usually buys his meat from ripping him off. He somehow got a tip that a nearby Zulu tribe sells livestock for a much more reasonable price, and so he and Kai set off into the bush to buy some pigs. On the way there they see a clearly ill woman stumbling around near a riverbank, and since she's topless and Kai's an enormous perv, he wants the boss to stop so they can fuck her. Bossman is all business though, and it's off to the village they go. Half the village appears to be dead, and half the living population looks like they'll be joining the stiff brigade sooner than later, but a cheap pig is a cheap pig, and before long they're bouncing back down the dirt road with some hogs in the back of the pickup.

When Kai manages to ram the truck into a tree, he and the boss have a row and he storms off into the bush. And then he storms into an entirely different kind of bush when he finds that woman from earlier passed out by the riverbank. Credit where it's due, Kai's first response is the normal human one of trying to wake her up, and when that fails, to move her out of the sun so he can get help. Then his hand brushes one of her breasts and he decides, what the hell, might as well rock out with my cock out! Before Kai can finish railing the unconscious woman, she vomits a stream of infected puke into his face and passes the deadliest disease known to man on to him.

Wouldn't you know it though, he's one of the lucky few who are immune. As if being a violent, sex-starved pervert with a persecution complex wasn't enough, when he gets over the fever he's sweating out on the boss's couch he'll be Typhoid Barry to boot. And that little girl he almost burned at the beginning? She's now an airline hostess, and spotted him at the restaurant while waiting for her next flight. She didn't recognize him outright, but she has a sort of psychic link that makes her smell blood and toss her cookies every time she's near him. That should be handy for her cop boyfriend to track Kai with once he returns to Hong Kong to begin his rampage of scrotum gravy and boogers and spit. You know, because the trail of melted corpses was so inconspicuous.

Aside from being repugnantly funny (Kai running through the streets of Hong Kong threatening to cut himself with a knife and screaming, “EEEEBOLAAAA! EEEEEBOOOOOOLA!” is hysterical), the South African portion of the movie is also extremely racist. That being the case, I figured for sure that when I looked it up I would find that the Zulu lived nowhere near Johannesburg. Turns out I was wrong, ugly American that I am. That means that someone involved in this stupid, hateful little movie actually took the time to study some geography. Compare this to American cinema, where half the time we can't even get our own geography right in our movies, let alone someone else's. The remake of The Crazies, set near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was actually partially shot there AND THEY STILL GOT ALMOST ALL THE DETAILS WRONG! How in the fuck do you even do that!? They showed fields that looked like the fucking Dust Bowl and claimed the whole area would die if they didn't irrigate it with the infected water. We haven't had a drought like that in my lifetime, my dad's lifetime, hell, probably my grandpa's lifetime, and the Cedar Valley is a massive floodplain! How do you spend that many weeks shooting a movie IN IOWA, ABOUT A FARMING COMMUNITY, AND NEVER ACTUALLY TALK TO A GODDAMN FARMER!?!?

Ok, aneurysm over. I'll leave you with this. Ebola Syndrome is a nasty, vicious exploitation movie full of rape and cannibalism and child murder and lots of talking about dick violence. If you look at it from a slightly different angle, it's also a sobering meditation on why it's a good thing superpowers aren't real, because if they were, you know damn well the great majority of the people who lucked into them would be a lot more like Kai than Kal-El.

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