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Movie Reviews: We're Going to Eat You

Comedy’s hard enough, and mixing comedy with horror is even harder. Leave it to Tsui Hark, one of Hong Kong’s best directors for decades, to combine the two effectively and even enjoyably in We’re Going to Eat You. This was only his second feature film, but he crammed it with so much energy and insane invention that you’d never know. It manages the tough trick of being both funny and gory without falling down too far on either side.

If I had to guess, WGTEY is probably what happened after Hark saw a few late-Seventies Italian horror productions and decided he could either pay homage to them or go one better. He has in fact done them one better, partly because many of those productions were humorless and stodgy (not counting unintentional humor, mind you), and had only the barest germ of a plot to see them through. Eat, by contrast, is blackly funny from start to finish, has a plot that’s about twice as involved as it would need to be for a movie like this, and even manages to sneak in some sly social commentary as well.

While tracking down a thief, Agent 999 and his cut-purse buddy end up amongst a village of masked cannibals.

Eat is set on an island off the Chinese mainland, in an isolated village where the desperate and starving locals are held under the thumb of a despotic police boss (Eddy Ko) and his mask-wearing and machete-wielding assistants. Because food is so scarce, the guards kidnap anyone stupid enough to stray into the area, butcher them, and divide up the meat (with the guards getting the choice cuts). The populace is desperate and paranoid, the only way off the island is via poled raft, and anyone who tries to escape is turned into cold cuts.

One day two newcomers arrive: Agent 999 (Norman Tsui), an undercover officer from the mainland looking for a criminal named “Rolex” (!), and a bungling cutpurse who figures he can fleece the natives. Neither have any idea just how twisted the village is, but it doesn’t take long for them to learn, and get into an amazing amount of trouble. 999 eventually finds his way to the head honcho, and we learn with some surprise that even after he finds out the village’s horrible secret, he’s not all that interested: He just wants to get his man and leave. He’s not a crusader. He is, however, a terrific fighter, and he forms the centerpiece of one amazing fight after another (which include such highlights as him rolling a cigarette on the forehead of an enemy in mid-fisticuffs).

The village boss keeps everyone in line with threats of violence (or worse), thanks to his gang of knife-wielding goons.

Over time the movie starts to sneak in some more subversive material. The boss of the village keeps everyone in line courtesy of his right-hand man, a Taoist priest. There’s dissention in his ranks, but anyone who steps out of line gets filleted (or worse), and only when outsiders come in and stir up the pot do things finally explode. I also liked a couple of other social-commentary subplots: a young boy finally finds an excuse to rebel against his masters, and there’s an extremely politically-incorrect bit about a homely woman (possibly a transvestite?) who becomes randomly enamored of the visitors.

Now that I think about it, the movie is an even three-way mix of comedy, horror and kung-fu action. Hong Kong action veteran Corey Yuen did the stunt choreography, and he put together some remarkable set-pieces here. I mentioned the cigarette-rolling fight, but there’s also several bits that mix comedy and gore into the action, such as a fight involving a board studded with dozens of nails. The climax of the film is one of the messiest and most chaotic fights I’ve ever seen in a Hong Kong movie—and that’s saying a lot—with firecrackers, flour dust, a smashed-up temple, and the heroes zooming around on rollerskates. (You can’t make this stuff up, really.)

The gore, comedy and action are all well-blended through the movie,
which keeps any one element from overriding the others.
Most of the time when a movie tries to mix humor and horror, the mix winds up being lumpy. Ichi the Killer didn’t work for me, since they kept trying to take refuge in the idea that it was all a postmodern joke; Stacy (which also tried to inject social commentary, without success) was just plain stupid. Here, they kept the worst of the gore offscreen so it didn’t get distracting, and the humor has smart dialogue and real wit to support it. “It’s eat or be eaten,” someone says at one point, and it’s to the movie’s credit that the line takes on a deeper meaning than you’d expect.

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the categories Movie Reviews, Movies, published on 2004/09/09 15:00.

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