7 Hong Kong 80s Exploitation Movies You Might Want to Avoid
For over half a century, Hong Kong filmmakers have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of their art form. In the process, they have produced some of the vilest, most atrocious, most unflinchingly gory movies Asia has ever seen. Unless your stomach is lined with steel, it would be a good idea to steer clear of the following seven Hong Kong 80s exploitation movies.
- This list excludes Men Behind the Sun, which is widely agreed to be one of the most shocking movies ever produced. It is too obvious a choice for entry.
- Transliterations are not in Mandarin but Cantonese, the regional dialect spoken in Hong Kong.
- Practically every movie on this list was reclassified as Category III after the rating system was introduced in Hong Kong in 1988.
- Simply put, Hong Kong Category III movies are intended only for viewers above 18 years of age. It is inaccurate to consider them as “video nasties” or purely exploitation movies, though. A movie could be classified as Category III for violence, excessive gore, sexual content, etc.
1. The Beasts (山狗, San Gou)
If you’ve watched American Backwoods Horror classic such as I Spit on Your Grave, the story for The Beasts would be familiar to you. A pair of siblings is brutalized by mountain thugs during a camping trip; the younger sister is gang-raped while her brother is tortured and killed. Faced with subsequent police indifference, the father of the victims embarks on a bloody mission of vengeance. How the final third of the movie then plays out is easily guessable.
Considered a cult classic by Hong Kong movie aficionados, and representative of a new style of Hong Kong film making in the early 80s, The Beasts is a thoroughly painful watch. Not only for its gore but also for its painstaking depiction of post-rape trauma. Doubly distressing is the fact that producer Teddy Robin claimed that the movie is based on a real incident, with the movie name “San Gou” also the Hong Kong colloquial term for hooligans that extort protection money from passers-by in the countryside. Is there any takeaway from this movie, or is it no more than an excuse to mimic western-style cinematic violence? Unless you’re a student of film making, you probably wouldn’t want to search for the answer from watching this legendary slaughter-fest.
2. Lost Souls (打蛇, Da Sheh)
In 1988, notorious Hong Kong filmmaker Mou Tun-Fei shocked the world with Men Behind the Sun, a gory, near-unwatchable depiction of World War II Japanese brutality that is still considered one of the most shocking movies ever made.
Before that, however, Mou long established his name in the exploitation genre with Lost Souls, a unforgivingly graphic depiction of the plight of illegal immigrants in Hong Kong during the early 1980s. As in, illegal immigrants who ended up imprisoned by unscrupulous local thugs determined to sell them for money. Absolutely drenched in nudity, sexual torture, and bloody violence, Lost Souls dishes out its awful tale with a fanaticism that could only be described as a feverish determination to shatter any boundary of human decency. The most dreadful part of this movie? An extended, meticulously detailed male rape sequence. In comparison, a similar scene in Paul Verhoeven’s Spetters feels almost serene. Your dreams will be haunted by male howls just by watching a few seconds of that sequence.
3. Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (第一類型危險, Dai Yat Hou Yeng Ngai Him)
Today, Tsui Hark is hailed as one of Hong Kong’s most visionary filmmakers, deeply respected for his groundbreaking work on classics such as Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain and Seven Swords. Like other world-renowned directors, though, Tsui dabbled with cross-genre and exploitation movies before achieving mainstream recognition. For the latter, his single most notorious work is widely agreed to be 1980’s Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind.
Grim and chock-full of fiery political criticism, Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind tells the nihilistic story of three youths with the nasty, nasty past time of making bombs. Their explosive hobby soon sees them entangled with a gang of international criminals, the outcome of which, as you can guess, doesn’t go well for any of the young men.
Heavily censored by the British colonial government before cinematic release, the movie was subsequently a financial failure although it achieved cult status with certain circles of movie lovers. If you intend to give this audacious production a try, be warned. Tsui Hark controversially included scenes of animal abuse. A mid-movie sequence in the director’s cut also chillingly mirrors terrorist events of recent years.
The cinematic release and the director’s cut of Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind vary dramatically in story. For the former, a highly controversial bombing segment was completely replaced.
4. Centipede Horror (蜈蚣咒, Wu Gong Chow)
Creepy crawlies have long been a staple in horror movies. In this 1982 flick, the film debut of Hong Kong 80s TV heartthrob Michael Miu, centipedes take center stage as the instrument of murder for a black magician. Victims are infested with the many-legged beasties before dying from poisoning, or used as scapegoats for other killings.
By today’s special effects standards, the effects in Centipede Horror would likely come across as gimmicky. The arthropods are too unnaturally large and plastic-like. That said, anyone with an aversion or phobia towards creepy crawlies should still steer clear of this nasty supernatural thriller. Of note, Centipede Horror is one of several 80s Hong Kong exploitation movies thriving on a brief fascination with Southeast Asian black magic. The movie goes to the extent of hiring a veteran Malaysian Malay actor to play the role of a bomoh (Malay witch-doctor).
5. Devil Fetus (魔胎, Mo Toi)
Thanks to the antics of a certain pea soup spewing little girl in the 70s, demonic possession forever became a cherished trope in horror filmmaking. In the 80s, empowered by rising regional demand and better technology, a slew of such movies was produced in Hong Kong, the end products ranging from the ludicrous to the ghastly.
For the latter, one of the most prominent examples is 1983’s Devil Fetus. To give you an idea of how nauseating this movie gets, author John Charles once described it as part of Hong Kong’s “early '80s gross-out cycle” of horror films. The short of it, this is one movie you shouldn’t watch before, during or even hours after a meal.
The plot itself is semi-decent, though, revolving around a family besieged by a sex demon after a female member misguidedly purchased a mysterious vase. Note here, sex demon. An evil entity that thrives on carnal activities. The body horror special effects aside, Devil Fetus is infamous for its rape and sexual scenes, one of which involves a rotting, zombie-like creature. Again, this is one movie that shouldn’t be anywhere near your dining table. Actually, why even want to watch it at all? Do you want to lose your appetite for a whole day?
6. Seeding of a Ghost (種鬼, Zoong Guai)
The simplest way to describe 1983’s Seeding of a Ghost is to say it is an Asian version of John Carpenter’s The Thing, with copious amounts of Asian black magic thrown in. (Many Hong Kong 80s exploitation movies incorporated black magic, often with colorful rituals) The unfaithful wife of a taxi driver is raped and killed following a tiff with her wealthy lover. Her husband is then manipulated by supernatural forces into meeting a black magician. He subsequently agrees to sacrifice himself to perform a demonic impregnation ritual, one that would enact ghastly revenge on his hated enemies.
Compared to the other entries on this list, Seeding of a Ghost is tamer. The effects, including those used for the climactic confrontation, are also somewhat dated, probably even cheesy to more discerning viewers. As a guide to what to expect from a Hong Kong Category III movie, though, few other 80s Hong Kong movies are better as an example. Revenge, sex, black magic, gore, violence, all five key ingredients are in this flick. If you’re doing an academic paper or likewise on the subject, Seeding of a Ghost is worth a look. Otherwise, leave it on the shelf. Viewers who are pregnant should obviously also give this a wide berth.
7. The Rape After (淫種, Yam Zoong)
Believe it or not, I watched this 1984 gorefest at age eleven, having gotten hold of the VCR tape from a classmate. What do I remember from that sneaky viewing? The movie is gruesome. Punishingly gruesome, particularly a mid-movie sequence involving the autopsy of a twisted and burnt corpse. While my classmate and I joked about the movie for days after, both of us were obviously freaked out by what we watched. Needless to say, we had many sleepless nights thereafter too.
Technically, the movie is also a classic example of a Hong Kong exploitation film. In spite of the English name, the story is really about a photographer tormented by the demonic offspring of his ex-lover after the latter was impregnated by a demon. To facilitate that storyline, the movie then dumps in scene after scene of grisly body horror, some of which, frankly, add little to the plot and are obviously meant just for shock.
The above considered, The Rape After is still noteworthy for its ambiance and lighting. Uniformly creepy, and markedly lacking the sort of slapstick humor that plagued so many Hong Kong horror productions, this movie is an unnerving watch from start to end. The short of it is that it’s not something you should screen during a house party. It’s obviously also a movie you should keep well hidden from kids.
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© 2019 Kuan Leong Yong