Director: Andy Ng Yiu-Kuen
Cast: Emotion Cheung Kam Ching, Anthony Wong Chau Sang, Melvin Wong Gam San, Yeung Faan, Helena Law Lan, Jamie Luk Kim Ming, Pauline Suen Kai Kwan
Running Time: 91 min.
By Paul Bramhall
In 1993 Herman Yau and Anthony Wong teamed up as director and star to create what’s considered to be the definitive Cat III movie in the form of The Untold Story. A grizzly tale based on a true story encompassing mass murder, dismemberment, human pork buns, and one of the most wince worthy uses of chopsticks you’re ever likely to see. A perfect example of a movie so extreme in both its graphic violence and off kilter tone that it would be impossible to follow-up, had it come from any other territory from Hong Kong, then chances are it never would be. However if there’s one thing Hong Kong cinema could never be accused of during its 1980’s and 1990’s heyday, it was of being predictable, so it was a movie like The Untold Story 2 came to exist.
Far from looking to quickly cash in on the original, the sequel would be released 5 years after the original, arriving on cinema screens in 1998, a year after the handover of Hong Kong back to China. So how do you top such a seminal piece of Cat III goodness half a decade after its release? The short answer is, you don’t even try. HK cinema has always played fast and loose with its use of titles and their interconnectivity to each other (you have to feel sorry for anyone who watches In the Line of Duty 4 and decides they want to check out the original), and here the use of The Untold Story title is mainly derived from 3 points – first that Anthony Wong is also in the cast (here playing a forgetful police officer), second is that it’s written by one of the originals co-writers in the form of Law Kam-Fai, and third there’s also a scene involving the unwitting consumption of human remains (just swap out human pork buns for “human roasted ribs”).
Instead, director Andy Ng Yiu-Kuen looks to make it clear from the get-go exactly what kind of Cat III flick the sequel will be, with an opening scene involving full frontal nudity that has Yeung Fan (Raped by an Angel 2: The Uniform Fan, Raped by an Angel 4: The Rapist’s Union) writhing around on a bed as she pleasures herself. Fan looks to satisfy her seeming insatiable horniness by waking up her sleeping husband, played by downtrodden husband specialist Emotion Cheung (Bio Zombie, The Demon’s Baby), however it soon becomes clear that he has issues getting it up (and she tries a lot), much to his wife’s chagrin. Somewhat amusingly, all of this takes place before the awesomely late 90’s CGI generated title has exploded onto the screen.
Running a small barbeque restaurant together, Fan happily sleeps around with other men who take an interest in her, a fact which Cheung willingly resigns himself too. Their dynamic is challenged though with the arrival of Fan’s cousin from the Mainland, played by Pauline Suen (who’s probably most recognisable for her role in Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer, where she went under the alias Alien Sun), who’s also come to HK looking for work. Suen takes an empathetic approach to Cheung’s situation, and her attentive nature soon finds his erectile dysfunction miraculously cured, as the pair embark on a steamy affair behind Fan’s back. However behind her actions lays a mysterious past and slightly unhinged temper, one which we first glimpse when she accidentally bumps into a local well-to-do lady at the airport, who berates her for being a Mainlander. Let’s just say that it’s best not to insult Suen if you care for your personal wellbeing.
The Untold Story 2 was the sophomore solo directorial outing for director Yiu-Kuen, having helmed Deep in Night in 1995, and made his debut by co-directing the TV movie The Hong Kong Criminal Archives – Black Money with Billy Tang in 1991. As a director Yiu-Kuen had an unremarkable career, with less than 10 movies to his name concluding with 2012’s long forgotten Death Zone. His most active period was the late 90’s and early 00’s, which was unfortunately one of the worst times for any director to be working in the HK film industry, with piracy running rampant and many of the biggest names having jumped overseas, fearing what the handover would mean for the local industry. The fact that titles like The Untold Story 2, Black Cat in Jail, and Deathnet.com represent the pinnacle of Yiu-Kuen’s career probably tells you all you need to know.
Watching the sequel with the benefit of hindsight, considering it came out when Hong Kong had already officially become a part of China, the barbs and jabs directed at Mainlanders in the script feels even more ramped up than what was typical in many late 80’s/early 90’s productions. While the typical portrayal of Mainlanders at this point, as seen in the likes of The Long Arm of the Law series, was of a backwards world full of simple-minded country bumpkins, here the amount of grief Suen receives over being from across the border is almost enough to make the audience take her side. From snotty clothing store assistants insisting she won’t be able to afford anything, to the restaurant cleaner becoming paranoid she’s after her job, nobody seems pleased to have someone from the motherland within their midst.
What is on par for a Cat III flick, are the jarring shifts in tone, with Yiu-Kuen lunging the narrative from titillating soft porn, to slapstick comedy, to gruesome horror with little regard for consistency. Anthony Wong’s character couldn’t be further from his incarnation in the original (although the original promotional poster does its best to convince you otherwise!), here playing a lazy cop (his character is referred to as Officer Lazyboots throughout) with bleached blonde hair and a penchant for misplacing his gun. Wong spends most of the movie visiting Cheung’s restaurant for free dinners after its closed and chasing after illegal poultry sellers from the Mainland (leading to an amusing scene involving chickens on the loose in the police station), but at least has the intuition to sense that something is off with Suen’s new arrival.
It’s her eventual jealousy towards Fan that delivers The Untold Story 2’s most gruesome scene, offering up frenzied stabbing and bodily dismemberment, as the descent into murder pushes her character into a mix between Annie Wilkes from Misery and Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction. It’s a shame then that Yiu-Kuen doesn’t really push the narrative into a more unhinged direction, as while I was expecting Suen to snap and go on a murderous rampage against all those who had belittled her so far (those store assistants especially!), instead the murder acts as the pinnacle of the sequel’s violence. The remainder of the narrative instead focuses on her relationship with Cheung going gradually off the rails, eventually putting him in the sites of his own electric bone saw from the restaurant, however the threat of violence fails to come with a pay-off, ultimately fizzling out with a rather abrupt ending.
Ironically one of the most entertaining aspects of watching The Untold Story 2 is the fact that many of its scenes were obviously filmed guerrilla style on the streets of Hong Kong, and watching some of the passers by reactions to certain scenes is frequently amusing. In one scene Cheung and Suen are sat on some stairs and share a kiss, with the camera filming from a distance meaning it may not have been insight for those strolling by on the pavement, and one particular businessman stops and looks at them with an expression of disbelief. All part of the charm of a certain era in Hong Kong cinema, of which 1998 was one of the years that the sun was already setting on.
When compared to similar late 1990’s entries in the Cat III genre then ultimately The Untold Story 2 is one of the better ones, and while that’s an admittedly low bar to surpass, it still manages to engage thanks largely to Suen’s performance keeping the audience guessing as to what exactly she could be capable of. It’s when things should get crazy that the difference between a director like Yiu-Kuen and Herman Yau become more blatant, with what feels like a hesitancy to fully put the pedal to the metal on the Cat III madness, leaving The Untold Story 2 as a serviceable but forgettable latter-day entry in the genre.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10