The Untold Story

Review by Guido Henkel

The Untold Story  (1996)
Tai Seng

Length:        95 mins.
Rated:          Not Rated
Format:       Letterboxed · 1.85:1
Languages:Cantonese, Mandarin
Subtitles:    English
Extras:        2 Commentary Tracks
                     Biographies
                     Trailers

I do not consider myself squeamish or easily unsettled, but one thing I have to admit, Tai Seng’s "The Untold Story" is one of the most disturbing and horrific movies I have ever seen! Interestingly the first time I heard about the film, the title "Untold Story" attracted much more romantic associations in me. From the title I was expecting it to be a romantic fantasy story until I heard it’s actually a horror thriller. That’s even better, I thought, and over time I gradually learned more about it. By the time I received this DVD release of the film from Tai Seng, I had a pretty good idea what the film was about, but nothing could have prepared me for this dark and gritty - yet impressively intelligent - gorefest. The film is appalling and engrossing at the same time, and even now as I write this, one day after viewing the film for review, it still has a solid grip on me, ever so often taking my thoughts to those gruesome images and scenes I had witnessed the day before.

The film immediately establishes the right mood with a brutal murder scene that is immediately followed by the on-screen gutting of a pig. After those establishing minutes you know what you’re getting into gore-wise, but the true horror of the story slowly unfolds as you watch. Wong (Anthony Wong) is an obsessive gambler and a cheater at that. He is cheating people out of their money and properties and if they refuse to pay, he quickly kills them. Wong is a butcher and cook, and as such the problem of the disposal of the human remains is only a minor nuisance to him. He chops the bodies to pieces, removes the bones and uses the flesh as fillings for his delicacies. The bones are the biggest problem to get rid of and most of the time he simply puts them in the trash together with the animal cadavers.

One day severed limbs are washed ashore a Macau beach. They, too, are the result of Wong’s work and they lead the police on his trail. Wong is now owner of a small restaurant that he took over from the previous owner who mysteriously vanished. It is only a matter of time until the police close in on the serial killer but with the little evidence they have they can’t really nail him down. Until one night Wong tries to flee to Mainland China. "The Untold Story" uses a great plot device that sets it completely apart from the Hollywood standard fare, a twist in the plot that can actually be found in a number of Hong Kong movies. Instead of creating a cat-and-mouse chase for the running length of the film in the vein of "Silence Of The Lambs", "The Untold Story’s" antagonist is captured about halfway through the story. The writers then took the challenge to continue the story without turning it into a boring courtroom drama. With interesting elements they managed to make the second half of the film just as shocking and violent as the first one, something you would think would be almost impossible to achieve.

In order to break the nerve-wrecking suspense of the film every once in a while, humorous elements are employed throughout the movie. It, too, is a trademark of Hong Kong films and especially in "Untold Story" it shows how much the filmmakers were aware of the unsettling nature of the matters at hand. In order to make the film bearable and enjoyable, some tongue-in-cheek and slapstick humor is integrated in the story to create a good balance that drives the film along. Especially the police team under Danny Lee’s direction is a riot and fun to watch.

Although "Untold Story" contains quite a bit of gore and slaughter, the most frightening thing about it is Hong Kong superstar Anthony Wong’s portrayal of this demented serial killer. It is hardly surprising that the accomplished actor has won a Hong Kong Film Award for his portrayal of Wong in this film and oftentimes it is frightening how realistic his performance is. From the disc’s commentary track and his other work, I know that Anthony Wong is in fact a very charming person, but in his roles he is turning into an animal without the slightest inhibitions. If this film would have qualified for an Academy Award for Best Actor, there can be no doubt in my
mind that Wong would have won it single-handedly for this part. He is violent, out of control, calculating and evil to the core in this stellar performance, which is even enhanced through Anthony Wong’s sophisticated deliberation in his acting and the depth he gives this inhuman character. Though inhuman in his nature and instincts, this character is still a personality and convincingly so.
Danny Lee, another Hong Kong superstar, is literally fading away in the presence of Wong and intentionally degraded to a relieving sideshow of the film, despite his own indisputable talent. I guess it is just hard for anyone to share the screen with someone like Wong without being wiped-out.

Tai Seng is presenting "The Untold Story" on this DVD in its uncut version. The transfer restores the film’s 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is clean throughout. The image is sharp and well defined and no serious artifacts can be found in the film print. The compression is nicely done, without any pixelation, chroma noise or other artifacts. The color balance in this release is also very good, from the very strong hues in some of the scenes, all the way to the natural outdoors with very naturally looking skin colors.

The disc contains monaural audio tracks in Cantonese and Mandarin and automatically defaults to the prior with English subtitles turned on. Interestingly this release does not contain any English language track, which is a direct result of the fact that "Untold Story" is such an offbeat cult film, and Tai Seng did not take anything away from the original movie experience by replacing Wong’s voice. The English subtitles are well done and very legible, which is the setup most fans of Hong Kong films prefer anyway. "The Untold Story" contains two separate commentary tracks. The first one is with the film’s director Herman Yau, while the second one features the movie’s star Anthony Wong himself. Tai Seng went to quite some lengths to get the elusive Wong to do this commentary track. It has also been one of the reasons why this DVD had been announced for a while but never actually got released. While it is great to hear the actor talk about his work in general and this film in particular, you can tell that doing a commentary track is nothing he is overly comfortable with. There is no such thing as commentary tracks in Hong Kong and the thought of commenting on a movie is almost bewildering for many Asian filmmakers. As a result the commentary track is a little unfocussed and loses impact as the film goes along, but Hong Kong Film Critic Miles Wood picks up some of the slack, querying Wong about the scenes we are currently seeing on the screen.

You have been warned - and Tai Seng has a clear warning on the packaging as well "The Untold Story" is nothing for the faint hearted or squeamish. Not only is the gore level of this film high and it breaks some serious taboos, its psychological effect on the viewer is almost worse than the onscreen carnage. To know that Wong is not a fictional character makes matters even more atrocious, yes, "The Untold Story" is based on real events!

"The Untold Story" is a brutal film that can only be recommended to hard core exploitation fans, but for what it is, it is one of the best there is. The sinister, cold and merciless atmosphere of this film will not leave you untouched, and is clearly material for real nightmares!

Learn more about this and other horror films at the

    

July 9, 1999

rectrect

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