When I first saw Ebola Syndrome (1996) around '98 or '99, it didn't leave much of an impression. It was pretty apparent around that time that the HK cinema scene was undergoing some massive changes in terms of who had the star power (more youth-oriented model and pop star types) and we were seeing signs of the near death of the more outlandish, exploitative, genre films that flourished in the 80's and early 90's. That is precisely what Ebola Syndrome is, a pure, unrelenting, nasty, blackly comic bit of grue, and its reputation and appreciation as just that kind of "they don't make em' like that anymore" film has grown over the years.
The film follows Kai (Anthony Wong), a working class bum driven by the most basic caveman desires: get laid, make ends meet, and try not to take crap from anyone, and that includes coldly killing them if they push him to far. He's not a hero or an anti-hero, he's just a despicable, self-centered lout. It's the kind of character actor role Anthony Wong was born to play, a talent he's demonstrated in countesses films, from Untold Story, to Hard-Boiled, Deadly Camp, Heroic Trio, and Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, just to name a few (the guy's resume makes Samuel Jackson's look lazy).
The balance of horror and absurdity is apparent form the opening scene. Kai is screwing the wife of his boss. It is certainly not sexy and doesn't really veer into sleazy thanks to Kai/Wong's comic insisting that she use "two slow strokes and three quick stokes" as they do the deed. But, then things turn brutal as they are caught in the act by the boss, who knocks Kai around, then unconscious, and insists that his wife pee on Kai to wake him up. Kai feigns weak blubbering before turning on them, slaughtering everyone in the room, only leaving the boss' young daughter alive because he is interrupted before he can set the scene of the crime ablaze.
Cut to ten years later and we find that Kai fled to South Africa where he sweats away working for next to nothing at a Chinese restaurant. His restaurant feels they are getting unfair treatment at the local butcher so they drive out to the sticks to get meat from local tribesmen. The tribe is infected with Ebola and after Kai rapes a tribeswoman and contracts the disease he becomes that all too rare person who is not afflicted by its degenerative properties but becomes a carrier, transferring it through saliva, blood, or semen, all of which Kai has plenty of to spread around. Kai goes on another rampage and flees back to HK unaware (not that he'd care anyway) that he is carrying a toxic plague. Its up to the cops and the now grown girl of his first rampage to track Kai down before he infects the entire city.
My second viewing all these years later didn't change my opinion very much. Ebola Syndrome isn't quite a top level HK Category III grinder like Dr. Lamb, Untold Story, or Run and Kill. Don't get me wrong, it certainly delivers all the trash, shocks, grossouts, and sleazy humor to keep you entertained, but it is not the first film I'd recommend to turn viewers on to the genre. That said, it is a really good exploitation'er from the capable hands of b-director Herman Yau (Taxi Hunter, Troublesome Night, Gong Tau: Oriental Black Magic) and Anthony Wong, the latter being the sole reason to watch the film. Wong really eats up the screen, making the most lowbrow of lowbrow material gleefully, guilty fun, be it barking at a high class hotel balking at arranging whores to come to his room or the fantastic finale where his sociopathic cess pool of a character literally spits in the face of the society that he feels has abused him. I liken Ebola Syndrome to the b-film version of Gaspar Noe's brilliant I Stand Alone, an hour and half with an unsympathetic, degenerate, working class, put down character lashing out at the world he's really just trying to date rape.
The DVD: Discotek.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Film looks great. For this kind of movie, the print is absolutely gorgeous, nice and sharp with excellent details, deep contrast, and only a hint of dirt/spots and grain that will probably take an eagle eye to detect. Colors are well-rendered with vivid hues and balanced fleshtones. Technically, the transfer seemed fine with just a smidgen of motion blurring being the only fault I could detect.
Sound: Cantonese Stereo. Again, very nice job. Obviously its not the kind of film meant to blow you away aurally but the memorable synth score and often overdubbed vocals come through just fine as well as the bloody, squishy, queasy fx cues.
Subtitle options include new, proper subs and the old, "crazy" HK subs. It is a very interesting choice, you've got a sensible translation and off-translation to choose from. Actually, the HK subs are by no means the craziest subs I've run across but still offer an amusing variation with some weird wordings. The new subs were fine, my only complaint being that in one instance they cover up some onscreen text.
Extras: Trailers.-- Photo Gallery.-- Deleted Footage (2:29). -- Interview with director Herman Yau and the occasional chime in from Anthony Wong (15:35). -- Commentary by Herman Yau and Anthony Wong (subbed).
I really enjoyed all of the extras. Wong and Yau's commentary track is pretty breezy and low key with some good anecdotes about the filming. Especially wining was Anthony Wong's sense of humor. The fifteen minute interview is precise and specific, a nice, bemused look into an excessive b-film. While it would be preferable to see the extra footage cut back into the film, it is still a clean, blistering montage of violence and all the depravity that the HK censors thought was just a tad too much.
Conclusion: There was once a time when every year you could rely on HK to produce quite a few of these films filled to the brim with outlandish doses of blood, boobs, gore, and sex with a slant of downright viciousness or, as is the case with Ebola Syndrome, tempered by a hellpit black sense of humor. Those days seem to be gone, making it all the more fortunate that in the US we've got companies like Discotek, who do a fine job with this kind of cult material. From top to bottom a nice transfer with a good round of extras. I'll keep this one short and cute: Get Ebola Now.