Wicked City (1992)
As someone who is watching a number of foreign movies over time, I am always surprised to find new gems, as well as films that have been ripped off by Hollywood filmmakers in one way or another. Image Entertainment’s recent release of the Hong Kong horror thriller "Wicked City" is an example of the latter. While the film itself seems clearly inspired by a number of the mutated incarnations of Freddy in the "Nightmare On Elmstreet" series, "Wicked City" clearly has to rank as the spiritual father of the blockbuster "Blade" feature film. There are just too many similarities in the story and the characters to be coincidental. Even complete scenes feel as if they were heavily inspired by "Wicked City", which, by the way, has been produced and released 6 years before the Hollywood incarnation of the mix-bred "Blade" who is determined to hunt his own vampire race.
Based on a popular Japanese comic strip, "Wicked City" takes us to a world not too far in the future where Reptoids, ruthless monsters are walking among mankind. Disguising themselves as human beings, these creatures have tried to destroy mankind for a long time. A police squad dedicated to fight these creatures is busy taking them out one by one, but as soon as they kill one of them two other seemingly appear someplace else. Ying is one of the cops from the squad and he is facing a battle of his own. Because his mother was monster, he is mistrusted by his superiors and most other cops in the department. When an insider from the squad seems to align himself with the monsters to distribute "Happiness", a drug that allows the monsters to subjugate humans, Ying becomes the prime suspect. With the help of his partner Lung he is trying to find the mole and together they venture deep into monster territory, while Lung is fighting his own demons. Years ago he has fallen in love with a monster himself and ever since hides her existence from everyone. To win this battle however, he has to face his past and use Gaye to find the originator of the drug ring before mankind has forever been enslaved by these power hungry creatures.
It is a bit hard to really categorize "Wicked City". It is a horror film to a degree with all the monsters, goo and blood around, but it is also a thriller judging by the level of suspense built, not to forget the action-packed stunts and overall pace. On top of that it is also a romantic drama, because it shows us the struggle of two people from different origins trying to sort out heir feelings for each other despite the seemingly impossible circumstances. The film nicely cultivates the image of one group of the monsters by making them smart and genuinely interested in humans, while their more rebellious and corrupt spin-offs seek nothing but world domination. Calling upon demons and creatures of all kinds, "Wicked City" is dazzling with the plethora of ideas it throws into the mix. The film is going so wild at times that it is hard to actually keep track of what exactly is going on, then taking the time for the viewer to catch a few breaths, only to start up the fireworks once again. Just as the title suggests, "Wicked City" is a wicked film – furious, fast, and explosive. Unlike many other Hong Kong monster movies, the film is quite serious, dropping most of the humorous elements that would have lent themselves to be introduced. Played completely straight with menacing monsters, the film gains a lot of authority through this approach and never ends up feeling really cheesy despite the completely over-the-top action.
Image Entertainment has released "Wicked City" in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio on this DVD. The film print used for the transfer of this DVD unfortunately exhibits a number of deficiencies, mostly worn out sprocket holes, which cause the image to jump every once in a while. The image itself is surprisingly clean however, thanks to digital noise reduction. However, the film could use a new transfer. Colors are unstable and oftentimes overpower the image, and the black level of the film print is too bright, resulting in a rather flat picture at times with grayish blacks and average highlights. Because of the deficiencies in the original film print used for the DVD, there is also dot crawl noticeable in the image.
"Wicked City" contains the film’s original Cantonese mono soundtrack, presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital>, a monaural English language track as well as English subtitles. Upon insertion the disc defaults to the Cantonese soundtrack with English subtitles turned on, the way most lovers of Hong Kong films will certainly watch the movie, which as very convenient and appreciated. Sadly, the soundtrack itself shows some serious problems. Oftentimes the music is very distorted, even if it is mixed at a moderate volume level in the background. It seems to be result of a poor audio track on the film print already and something that could not have been fixed without a major restoration of the individual sound elements. Interestingly dialog, which is oftentimes much louder than the music doesn’t exhibit the same level of distortion.
To me "Wicked City" was a fun movie. Nothing exceptional, but fun to watch. With its completely overdrawn characters, the interesting mix of monsters and most importantly the remarkable cinematography, the film pulled me through its entire running length with ease. The finale is a riot, with a monster riding on top of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet through the skyscraper skyline of Hong Kong, making wild twists, rolls and turns that will have you rolling on the floor. I liked it, and I’d like to invite you to give it a shot, too.