Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gritty Hong Kong

Way over a year after I wrote about the gritty Hong Kong crime film series THE CRIMINALS I've finally managed to track down an original copy of part 2, HOMICIDES. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly ordinary releases can vanish from the face of the Earth! These video-cd's were sitting on the shelves at dddhouse for a very long time and I had them bookmarked for months on end because I knew I was gonna order them at some stage - and then when I finally decided to get them... they were gone... from every store... everywhere. O_O

At dddhouse they were selling them for HKD 40 (US$5) apiece and I just spent 30 dollars US for a second hand copy from a seller on eBay France! And that's before postage. >.<

Now I just need another 18 months to track down part #5.
[insert smiley of cartoon character hitting himself with large mallet]


  1. Nice find on this, Jack. It's interesting that several of these stories in this series started out as full length features. The one that showed the most promise in my opinion was Sun Chung's QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET from CRIMINALS 4. I think that's among the best work that director ever did.

    I did mini reviews for all of these myself several years ago at a forum as there seemed to be very little about them anywhere.

  2. Thanks, Brian. Feel free to post links to your reviews on said forum. I for one would like to see them. :-)

  3. I don't post on that forum anymore but I'll post the write ups here and you can cut them and delete these comments if you like. I'll do one comment for each...

    THE CRIMINALS (1976) is an anthology film made up of three true crime tales. The first is 'Hidden Torsos' from director Cheng Kang. The story deals with a vicious loan shark who brutally murders and dismembers a young woman and her little girl. Not much plot here but Cheng Kang masterfully shoots this like a horror film and adds some depth to this first segment.

    The second is 'Valley of the Hanged' and deals with a poor man and his adulterous wife who constantly chastises him for never having enough money to allow her to play Mahjong every night. She hooks up with an ambitious philanderer and his Aunt causing the husband much grief until he goes over the deep end and murders them all with a meat cleaver. The title comes into play during the closing moments. Hua Shan directs this episode.

    'The Stuntmen' is directed by Ho Meng Hua and is a treat. Lo Lieh is a stunt actor at Shaw Brothers Studio. He gets mixed up with a prostitute that shares a striking resemblance to Tanny Tien Ni (who plays herself along with her real life husband Yueh Hua who also plays himself briefly) Lo Lieh gets entangled with the Triads and it all goes down hill from there. There are several notable scenes showing behind the scenes working on a Shaw Brothers swordplay movie and director Ho instills a brief but eerie feel of Triad infiltration of the HK film industry.
    Nothing overly special about THE CRIMINALS but it was a big hit and four sequels followed. A number of the segments in this series began production as full length features. For whatever reason, they ended up being condensed into an anthology with each tale of varying length. Some nice gritty atmosphere in this first film and each show opens and closes with narration. The closing title font is different from the usual one that ends all Shaw Brothers movies. Recommended for trash fans just don't expect to have to think too hard.

  4. HOMOCIDES-THE CRIMINALS 2 (1976) is four true crime stories. The first one is 'The Deaf-Mute Killer'. It's about a seriously abused handicapped young man. His friend is a pretty young woman whose husband has died. One evening her brother-in-law rapes her in the woods. She refuses to reveal who has raped her and incurs the wrath of her in laws in the process. It is surmised the deaf mute is the one responsible and this brings more harm to him when he gets a job in another town. The episode culminates in a bloody machine gun battle with police. This bit is directed by Kuei Chi Hung and shot in B/W save for the final shot which delivers a queasy ambiance reminiscent of his THE DELINQUENT (1973).

    The second segment titled 'Mama San' is directed by Hua Shan. In it, a couple foolishly rip off the den owner of a prostitute ring. She in turn goes after them and upon their capture, brutally tortures them. Kuei Chi Hung has a cameo here at the end. This story closes with narration detailing what happened to the demented dragon lady. The actress playing this role is very intense and memorable.

    The third story is titled 'The Informer' and is directed by Kuei. It deals with an informer for the police who gets in over his head and soon comes under the watchful eye of another informer. Kind of a weak show and nothing much of interest really happens. The coda is kind of decent though.

    The fourth segment is called 'Nude In A Box' from director Sun Chung. The story opens with the discovery of a nude, naked and very dead body of a young 17 year old girl stuffed inside a cardboard box. As would become common place years later in other more sadistic true crime movies, the episode opens with the discovery of a body followed by a court procedural then a flashback detailing the sordid act of murder. An improvement over the first film, the sleaze factor is increased a bit especially in this final segment which features a rapist who enjoys slicing women's nipples and blowtorching their crotches. Only the final scene keeps this from being a classic but Sun Chung's trademarks are clearly in their infancy stages here soon to display a director about to define his signature style.

  5. THE CRIMINALS 3-ARSON (1977) features only two stories this time out. The first story is 'The Gun Snatchers' directed by Hua Shan. Two crooks (Fan Mei Sheng, Wang Lung Wei) end up killing a determined cop (Wang Chung) after one of them escapes from jail. Another crook (Lin Hui Huang) beaten up by the two criminals informs the police of the incident. Another resilient policeman (Ling Yun) steps in to nab the two miscreants. Narrowly avoiding the cops, the two gangsters try to kill the informer but fail. One of them is captured but the other escapes yet again only to be ratted out by his fellow accomplice. This is a fairly mundane show highlighted by some ample nudity and a smattering of action. Nothing overly disturbing found here. One nice bit sees a character looking through a magazine featuring a spread on SUPER INFRA MAN.

    The second segment is titled 'Arson'. Directed by Kuei Chi Hung, the story begins with an apartment building being set on fire by some unseen assailants. After an investigation by police, a gangster nick-named "The Judge" (Ku Kuan Chung) is arrested getting off a ferry from Macau. A mysterious informant passes along some information to the police leading to the capture of two additional criminals. The remainder of the program is a court procedural revealing that the destruction of the building was actually meant for a club owned by a rival Triad and that the informant is actually a member of the gang that started the blaze. The show ends with a disclaimer that the names were changed to protect the witnesses. This is the least of the series, or more accurately, the least torrid. This entry is fairly forgettable with nothing particularly standing out. The stars are all crammed into the first story.

  6. THE CRIMINALS 4-ASSAULT (1977) begins with 'Maniac' ably directed by master sleaze merchant Kuei Chi Hung. A vicious gang of thugs attack couples at night killing the men and kidnapping the women. The gang all take turns raping the women they abduct before selling them into prostitution. One of the rape victims manages to escape en route to the whore wrangler but is run over by a car in the process. The leader of the gang, Boar (San Kuei), is the maniac of the title. He is ordered to find another girl and happens to target the sister of the girl who was hit by the car. A thick air of nastiness looms over this segment. There's also some good fights courtesy of Huang Pei-chi. Frankie Wei Hung plays the cop on the case, unusual for him as around this time, he was seen predominantly in villain roles. One of the best segments of the entire series thus far. Director Kuei crams a lot of seedy entertainment value into this story.

    The next torrid tale is 'Queen of Temple Street' from Sun Chung. This piece deals with a shallow and self centered husband who is addicted to gambling wasting away the money earned by his hard working and beautiful wife. Once he is so far in debt, he must sell his wife to the gambling den boss for one year. The husband falsifies a story that a friend has gotten him an office job and that he is taking her to meet him. Only when she arrives does she realize she has been unknowingly sold into a prostitute ring. To divulge further would spoil what is otherwise the BEST segment of this entire series. This segment is so well handled and directed, it deserves to be a full length feature (it started out that way). Some great compositions, performances and some truly cruel and callous characterizations. This film, as well as this story, are highly recommended viewing.

  7. THE CRIMINALS 5-TEENAGER'S NIGHTMARE aka TEENAGER'S NIGHTMARE (1977). Two stories; the first, 'Gun' directed by Mou Tin Fu deals with two financially hindered friends (Wang Chung and Ai Fei) who witness a murder, but before the unknown victim is killed, he tosses away a package presumably what the gang of thugs was after. The two retrieve the parcel and find it contains a machine gun and some grenades. Taking into consideration their desperate struggle to make ends meet, the two inadvertently get involved in criminal activities when some motorcycle riding punks get accidentally gunned down by the two friends. They are now on the run from the law and after coercing his girlfriend (Lily Li), the three go about robbing banks and such until the violent finish. This tale lasts around 38 minutes and is pretty well made stuff and, like some of the other CRIMINALS segments, could have benefited from being stretched out to full length, which, again, this was originally intended to be.

    The second episode is 'The Teenager's Nightmare' and is quite possibly the sleaziest, grimiest most scornful segment of the whole series. Directed by Shaw's director of depravity, Kuei Chi Hung, this tale is about a serial rapist that goes around violating underage girls. Some of these girls that are forced to strip down look all of 13 or 14. Shockingly, Hui Ying Hung is the second rape victim and plays a 15 year old and looks it. Adding to this dirty mix are a group of cops who add lots of unpleasant comedic elements that sit uneasy with the sordid material. Some of the humor is funny, but it just doesn't marry well with this type of storyline which may account for the similarities in tone with stuff like BUNMAN and DR. LAMB. The only lead the cops have is that the rapist has some kind of skin disease leaving his hands down to his wrists a pale complexion. Possibly the most disturbing realization of the rapist comes when a beautiful woman goes into the women's showers (the bathrooms depicted here are filthy). The camera lovingly caressing her body from head to toe. The rapist enters and prepares to assault her, but upon realizing she is not an underage girl, not to mention that her breasts are too big(!), he leaves her be. After seeing these films, I would say that this series laid the groundwork for the true crime/horror movies that followed years later.