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Untold Story, The
Based on infamous true events that took place near main land China back in 1978, The Untold Story chronicles the tale of Wong Chi Hang (played by Anthony Wong, best known for his role in Hard Boiled), who we first meet at a mahjong game gone wrong, resulting in Wong beating and then burning the other player. A short time later and a mother and her two sons find some body parts washed up on the score. A team of local police officers, led by Danny Lee (who played Inspector Li in the Killer), a man who really enjoys the company of hookers, is begrudgingly signed to the task of investigating the crime.
Around the same time, Wong takes over the Eight Immortals Restaurant, his former employer now nowhere to be found. The more the police look into the events and backgrounds of the parties involved the grislier and more suspicious the events get and all fingers seem to point in the direction of the restaurant and its unusual new owner. After looking into it further, it turns out that the former owner of the restaurant and his entire family has disappeared, and Wong doesn't have any legal documents proving that the restaurant was ever legally signed over to him.
As the cops start to close in, Wong starts eliminating anyone who might have any dirt on him, his newly acquired restaurant giving him the perfect way to get rid of the bodies he leaves in his wake, including restaurant employee Pearl (Julie Lee), who he brutally rapes.
The Untold Story bounces between oddball humor when the cops are interacting, and brutal horror in a uniquely manner that borrows from films like Silence of the Lambs and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The subplot where female tomboy cop Bo, played by Emily Kwan, is flat out goofy and seriously at odds with the darker side of the film, resulting in some really unexpected and occasionally quite jarring shifts in tone. It's odd, you really wouldn't see a film like this made in North America. At times it's very funny and at others, incredibly disturbing, the rape scene and the final murders really standing out as seriously messed up. The gore effects are generally pretty well done too, with only the occasional severed body part looking fake and rubbery. Yau's direction is good, he paces the film nicely, and production values are solid across the board with the film benefitting from a good score and some solid cinematography as well.
Not for the squeamish (the contents and subject matter of The Untold Story earned it a CAT III rating due to the graphic portrayals of violence towards children, rape, and general bodily mutilation), this film allows Wong to delve into his character's dark side and bring a true human monster to life for the audience in a performance so convincing that he was awarded with the Best Actor award in the 1993 Hong Kong film awards. His performance here is, in a word, excellent. He's clearly completely committed to the part and he really just goes for it, coming close to chewing the scenery a couple of times but never quite going over that line. It is, ultimately, his performance that makes the picture work as well as it does. The supporting cast members are fine, Danny Lee standing out, but it really is Wong's show and the movie is at its best and at its most memorable when he's on screen doing his thing.
The Untold Story arrives on region A Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and taking up just over 27GBS of space on a 50GB disc. It's a good transfer, improving on the DVD (which came out in 1999!) considerably, as you'd hope. The picture is clean, showing very little print damage but retaining the expected amount of natural film grain. Colors are reproduced well, skin tones look good and black levels are solid if maybe a step away from reference quality. There are no noticeable issues with major compression artifacts (you might spot a few minor ones in some of the darker scenes) and the picture is, thankfully, free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement problems.
Audio options are offered in Cantonese and Mandarin language options in 16-bit LPCM 2.0 Stereo with removable subtitles provided in English only. No problems here, the audio sounds fine, with both tracks properly balanced and demonstrating a decent amount of depth. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion worth noting.
Extras on this release include a new commentary track featuring Bruce Holecheck and Art Ettinger. They start off by talking about the different titles that the film is known under, the stylized format used in the prologue, the importance of this era in Hong Kong filmmaking not just in the horror genre but in other genres as well, their own experiences getting exposed to Cat III films as well as the specifics of the rating itself, the impact of the Cat III boom on the Hong Kong film industry and the popularity of these films, details on the home video release history of The Untold Story (including mention of the German release on DVD that came with a set of chopsticks!), the use of 'daffy cop humor' in the picture, other pictures that the cast members were involved in, the significance of Julie Lee's presence in the film, the use of rape in this and other Hong Kong Cat III movies and the importance of Danny Lee's contributions to cop movies. As the track goes on, they also cover the importance of Dr. Lamb to the Cat III horror pictures, notes on the case that inspired the film, the way that police brutality is depicted in the movie, background details on Yau's career, Wong's performance (including his use of real vomit in the movie!) and career and lots more. It's a good track with a lot of information in it. These guys have solid chemistry together and have a very conversational delivery style that makes it easy to listen to.
Carried over from the old Tai Seng DVD release are separate archival commentary tracks, one with Anthony Wong and the second with Herman Yau. Wong's track, delivered in English and moderated by Miles Wood, starts with a talk about how he got into acting and then goes on to cover trying to resemble the real life person on which the movie was based, how he feels most Cat III scripts are generally pretty bad, working with Yau on the shoot, Danny Lee's performance and his tendency to take charge, what it was like shooting some of the gore sequences, the influence of his acting teacher on his work in this picture, his popularity in the west and his thoughts on the picture overall. Yau's track, also delivered in English and moderated by Wood, covers the real life events that inspired the film, how he came to direct the project, working with the cast and crew on the picture, what went into getting the props ready for the gore scenes, the camerawork featured in the picture, why the infamous rape scene was shot and cut the way it is and how important it was not to sexualize it, how shooting scenes with real meat and organs can result in a terrible smell, the use of humor in the picture and plenty more. If you haven't heard these tracks before, they're both well worth your time.
Unearthed also provides the film's score as an isolated audio track, also in 16-bit LPCM 2.0 format, which is a nice touch.
Also worth mentioning is the inclusion of Category III The Untold Story Of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema, a feature length documentary that runs just over eighty-three-minutes in length. This documentary is comprised of interviews with academic and critic Sean Tierney, critic and producer Bey Logan, director Daniel Chan, Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival Deputy Director Mike Hostench, curator and critic James Mudge, academic and author Calum Waddell (who also directed the documentary), actor Gan Kwok-Leung, director Godfrey Ho, actor Anthony Wong and actress Josie Ho. This thorough examination of the Cat III movies covers the different classifications ratings and specifically what makes a Cat III film earn that rating, the different films that are now associated with the Cat III rating, early films that played a part in the movement including some Shaw Brothers pictures, the big players in front of and behind the camera, the importance of T.F. Mau's Cat III films and some of the politics behind them and contributions from other studios like Golden Harvest. We also get overviews on some of the more memorable Cat III films that have been made over the years like the Sex And Zen films, the Erotic Ghost Story movies, Chinese Torture Chamber Story, The Untold Story and its sequels, Ebola Syndrome, Dr. Lamb, the Men Behind The Sun films and Naked Killer to name just a few as well as a look at the work from Cat III legends like Amy Yip, Anthony Wong, Herman Yau, Simon Yam and the influence of the Hong Kong handover to its film industry, more recent Cat III films among other topics. It's pretty interesting stuff and nicely put together, covering pretty much all of the bases you'd hope it would cover.
On top of that, we also get Cantonese Carnage: An Interview With Rick Baker that runs just over thirteen-minutes. He talks about starting the Eastern Heroes fanzine and then, subsequently, the video label and store and the popularity of the Cat III films that he had a hand in bringing to audiences in the UK. He also talks about dealing with censorship problems, how the Cat III films were always the most popular even if the quality wasn't always there, the success of a Naked Killer boxed set release that they put out, the importance of Anthony Wong and Simon Yam to the Cat III market, some of the more important Cat III films from the era, dealing with the BBFC on certain releases and what's happened to the Cat III movies in the last decade or so.
Also found on the disc is a Q&A With Herman Yau in which, over seven-minutes, he speaks about the differences in the markets for some of his films in regards to the Hong Kong audiences and the mainland China audiences and the economic influence of those differences, the censorship issues that existed between Hong Kong and mainland China and what might happen to HK cinema as mainland China usurps the territory.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are two different trailers for the feature as well as bonus trailers for Famine, House Of The Flesh Mannequins, Nightwish, The Song Of Solomon and The Unnamable as well as menus and chapter selection options.
As to the packaging, Unearthed Films provides a slipcover with this release and, inside the Blu-ray keepcase alongside the disc, we also find an insert booklet containing a two-page essay on the film by Art Ettinger that provide a bit of background on the movie as well as his own thoughts on the film. Good stuff.
The Untold Story remains one of the more notorious Cat III pictures, and for good reason as it's pretty brutal in spots. While tonally this one is all over the place, Wong's insanely intense performance makes it one for the record books and Unearthed Films has done a very nice job bringing it to Blu-ray with a solid presentations and a whole lot of extra features both old and new. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.