Category III is nothing more than a rating, the equivalent to an "R" or "NC-17" in the States. A film can get rated Category III purely based on language or thematic content, but since it was first implemented in Hong Kong in late 80's, it became synonymous with extreme off the wall exploitative elements usually pertaining to violence and sex, often the two combined.
The heyday of Cat III films was the early to mid 90's, delivering such gems as The Story of Ricky, Erotic Ghost Story, Naked Weapon, Run and Kill, and Dr. Lam. 1995's A Chinese Torture Chamber Story is a softcore sex-shocker that quickly rose into Category III infamy for its imaginative gratuity and an infamous scene that would become a gold standard example of the dizzyingly extreme content the genre offered.
A Chinese Torture Chamber Story gets the ball rolling with an opening credit montage, text, and narration telling us about the horrible, earlier punishments doled out to criminals, ranging from castration, to getting guillotined in half, to getting buried in sand, then having hot wax poured into your open skull, which apparently will make you jump clear out of your skin. Oh, the things you learn.
We meet our two protagonists, innocent village girl Little Cabbage (Yvonne Yung- Sex & The Emperor, Ancient Chinese Whorehouse), a maid to well off scholar Yang Nai-wu (Lawrence Ng- Center Stage, Sex and Zen. The two have been arrested and accused with adultery and the murder of Little Cabbage's husband, Ge, who died due to "penis explosion" after OD'ing on an aphrodisiac supposedly prescribed by Yang.
While Yang did employ Little Cabbage with the hopes of one day making her one of his concubines, their relationship was strictly chaste. Yang's wife Didn't like her hubby's affections for Little Cabbage, so she set up the poor girl to get married off to a local bumpkin, Ge, a man notorious for his gigantic, rat-drowning, bang a gong member (trust me, that'll all make sense after you see the film). Furthermore, after Little Cabbage witnesses Yang's wife engaged in her own extramarital affair, and Ge puts a public beatdown on her lover for making a pass at Little Cabbage, we get the set-up leading to Little Cabage and Yang's imprisonment.
This is the kind of cult movie that I'd venture to guess you could find has a lot of negative reviews: "It wasn't sexy... It wasn't funny... It was all over the place..." What makes it such a Cat III, cult filmdom winner is precisely because it is such a teeter totter film. It has incredibly stupid comedy. At the same time, within a breath, it'll veer from the romantic or the comedic to absolutely grim, bleak, and gory. Its erotic scenes are actually very few as far as the genre is concerned. This ends up being a big selling point because a problem within the softcore genre is bump and grind being extended to pad out the running time. Not so here, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story moves from one gag to the next. Maybe it all isn't the most brilliant content, but it is plenty, imaginative, well-directed, and headlined by a great cast.
If you are any kind of exploitation fan, you'll find many inventive scenes, be they inclined towards the humorous or Spanish Inquisition dismal. The films most ‟infamous‟ scene involves a wirework action parody when Yang and his assistant are wandering through the forest and they encounter a superheroic, kung fu flying couple (the male half being Cat III stalwart Elvis Tsui), who engage in some high flying acrobatic sex through the treetops. Think the Skinemax version of Crouching Tiger's... bamboo forest fight.
The DVD: Discotek.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Again, Discotek does an excellent job with cult/fringe material and presents a clean, tight, well-transferred print. Fleshtones have nice scope and warmth. Contrast is suitably deep and even. As far as any transfer quibbles, the image appears solid with no severe artifacing.
Sound: 2.0 Stereo, Cantonese. Two subtitle options, a new, more proper translation and the old, wonky subs. Well, when the film was produced, HK sound quality didn't exactly have high standard. As such, the audio is workmanlike, nice and distinct, but nothing aurally impressive.
The subtitle translation is solid. The addition of the old Universe DVD subs is nice, though honestly the "Engrish" translation is not even close to the craziest I've seen, so its charm is marginal.
Extras: Reversible cover art. One side is "safe" while the other is explicit. Though, honestly, you probably wouldn't want the kiddies taking a gander at the tamer cover design, much less the naughty one. --- About the Actor's text. Appears to be a better translated version of the old Universe DVD bio's. --- Photo Gallery. --- Trailers. --- Amazing Display of Kung Fu Flying Sex. It is just a chapter stop that takes you to the aforementioned scene.
Conclusion: A fine piece of exploitation. A Cat III classic. If you want some short bus comedy, gratuitous titillation, and wince-inducing torment, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story delivers, and thankfully, though light on extras, so does Discotek's transfer. Fans of the genre should be inclined to purchase this one.