Monday, November 7, 2022

Review: Dr. Lamb

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 202
Images from the Internet

Dr. Lamb (aka Goh yeung yee sang)
Directed by Danny Lee; Billy Hin-Shing Tang
Grand River Film Ltd.; Heroes United Films Ltd.; Unearthed Classics; MVD Entertainment
89 minutes, 1992 / 2022
Hong Kong is not well known for having serial killers making headlines (there have been two as of this writing). This story is somewhat loosely based on one of them. Released in Hong Kong in Cantonese (also available on this Blu-ray in Mandarin or English subtitles), it became one the highest grossing horror films in the city, gathering a Category III Rating (adults only). This new 30 Anniversary Edition is completely uncut, taken from the original negative in 2K, so it is nice and crip.

Simon Yam

The main characters here are Lamb, Lam Gor-Yu (Simon Yam) as the InCel taxi-driver/photographer wannabe turned serial killer, and the main police officer chasing him, Inspector Lee (co-director Danny Lee). The change from Lam to Lamb (I will call him Lam going forward) was most likely a mistake on the English translation, or to keep hidden somewhat that it was a foreign film. At the time this was released, it was towards the end of the great Chinese influx of films, that were mainly Kung Fu or police dramas. With waning interest, and the closing of many Chinese-exclusive theaters (I went to one in Chinatown in New York on occasion with Shaw Bros. aficionado Mariah Aguiar that was torn down shortly after this film came out), and Blockbuster-type superstores that did not show these Category III films very often and were usually grainy or heavily edited, there was a reason to lean to the avoidance of foreign releases. The original Cantonese title translates as “Hong Kong Female Butcher.” But it was the start of a new resurgence of Extreme Asian cinema from Hong Kong.

The film is nicely broken up into consecutive sections. The first deals with Lam’s childhood in an overcrowded city, living with his extended family, including parents, siblings, aunt, uncle and cousins, all in the same small apartment. Even as a pre-teen, the sexual component of his personality was already showing signs of, well, being weird.

Danny Lee

The second section is post-murders, and he and his whole family are arrested, though they know it is Lam who is the killer. He is abused by the police (something quite common in that period, from what I know) and even his own kin.

In the third, when the police focus on Lam, we get to see his crimes in quite shocking detail, including butchery with a saw and scalpel (hence the title), as he keeps body part “mementos.” Yes, this is a pretty gruesome third act that gives it the Category III rating. Definitely not for the squeamish as there are close-ups of his actions. This is a gorehound’s dream that is worth the wait.

And as malevolent as Lam is, it actually doesn’t come close to what the real killer did in his crimes. This would definitely be considered a “Video Nasty” in Britain at the time of its initial release in 1992.

Comic relief cops

There is definitely a level of social commentary mixed in with the story, especially with the abuse Lam had suffered through most of his life, between the tight-quartered family who were not nice people, and the police violence against him. But it is not overt and does not hit the viewer over the head with it. It also does not make any excuses for Lam’s extreme actions.

Yet, with all the violence and body parts, the film is quite beautifully shot and edited, especially during the murder sequences, with odd angles, cool red lights, and a focus on the horrific action. I also enjoyed the scenes in the rain, which reminded me of Blade Runner (1982). Speaking of Runner, as Lam drives around in his taxi, we see some scenes of the city, full of bright neon lights. It is a bit overwhelming and yet beautiful at the same time. Reminds me in some ways of the lights over the bar at CBGB, times 10.

There are some really nice extras added to the Blu-ray, including a full-length commentary by Art Ettinger, editor of Ultra Violent magazine, and Bruce Holecheck, of Cinema Arcana). Their commentary is a bit dry, but their history of the genre is riveting, as they discuss the real case, the history of Category III films, and the backgrounds of the directors, the cast and the crew. Then there are the documentaries and interviews.

First up is “Lamb to the Slaughter: An interview with filmmaker Gilbert Po, who initiated the Dr. Lamb film project” (20 min). In English, Po explains with history and humor, how the idea of the film originated, about the Category III rating, filming anecdotes, and the placement of the film in the culture of both Hong Kong and the rest of the world. Next up is “Three Times the Fear: Film Critic James Mudge on the Golden Era of Category III” (21 min.). This could have been pretty mundane, but it is kept interesting because rather just focusing on the overview of the genre, he mainly discusses the film’s placement in the culture, and how the two leads of this film also did many other Category III films, thereby subtly bringing up multiple others.

Then there is “Cut and Run: Film academic Sean Tierney aka The Silver Spleen remembers Dr. Lamb” (16 min). I was a bit nervous about this one due to the term “academic” and I thought it was going to be dry as dust, but Tierney is actually quite engaging, and I totally respect that he does not just glorify the film, but also points at some flaws (in his opinion), which is actually rare in these commentaries. The last featurette is the “Atomic TV Interview with Simon Yam” (9 min), which is the only one of the four documentary extras that is archival, from a 2000 Anime convention. Yam discusses his overall career.

The last two extras are a bunch of trailers from Unearthed, all but one has been reviewed on this blog. The other is a nice glossy color print collector’s booklet that comes in the clam shell.

It is no surprise to me that this had a Category III rating. There is a lot of nudity, and torture; typical Unearthed fare, which is a strong compliment.

IMDB listing HERE


1 comment:

  1. I did a podcast segment on this article