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Still from "Ebola Syndrome"
Still from "Ebola Syndrome"

Can you stomach these Category III gross-out horror films?

Relive all the gory glory of Hong Kong’s most brutal movie rating – where actors get raped by chopsticks and seduced by the undead


In 1988, Hong Kong introduced a ratings system for its films – yes, before that time there was no official control over what age could see what – and Category III indicated ‘adults only’. Naturally, this led to a flurry of popular softcore sex flicks such as Sex and Zen (1991) and also bullet-ballet action classics including The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1991). However, it also generated a market for unashamedly gruesome, and gruelling, horror movies that only the most dedicated denizen of splatter cinema has ever bothered to track down…


Despite being a British colony at the time, Hong Kong Category III pictures have a sense of anarchy and unpredictability that could not be further removed from the sentiments of the West. For instance, The Untold Story (1993) – which won a Hong Kong Academy Award for its star, the brilliant character actor Anthony Wong – serves up scenes of oddball black comedy alongside a lengthy rape with chopsticks and a roomful of child actors being graphically cut to pieces. Their bodies are even served in pork buns. Similarly, Run and Kill (1993) highlights the villainous Simon Yam (a Category III superstar) burning a little girl to death in front of her screaming father. And, no, the camera does not pull away – instead, we see these atrocities in all of their prolonged gory-glory.

Want more transgressive terror? Well, Red to Kill (1994) features a story about a rapist who infiltrates a home for children with learning difficulties and gets his just desserts at the hands of some painful vigilante justice. Meanwhile, Simon Yam would reach some sort of dubious shock-cinema peak with Dr. Lamb (1992) – a weird and wonderful slice and dice sickie about a taxi driver who has sex with dead bodies. Best of all, though, might be Anthony Wong’s outstanding Ebola Syndrome (1996) – in which a Chinese restaurant worker catches the disease from some corpse-canoodling in South Africa and returns to Kowloon, fully infected and dedicated to coughing on everyone he passes. Believe it or not, Ebola Syndrome (1996) is one of the most mesmerising and chaotic horror-comedies ever made.

Providing your sense of humour is in the gutter, of course…


Don’t worry – not all of the limb-lopping is so aggressively dedicated to shattering taboos. The often amusing Erotic Ghost Story (1990) is based around the alluring site of busty Amy Yip as an undead seductress all too willing to engage in some kit-shedding action. Necrophilia and demonic possession also figure into the plot, but nothing too nasty. The gorgeous Yip would return for a cameo in Erotic Ghost Story II (1991) but her finest Category III moment was perhaps Robotrix (1991) in which she is reborn as a half-human, all-ass-kicking, automation. Likewise, Blue Jean Monster (1991) is an insanely entertaining slice of pulp about a zombified police officer protecting his innards from spilling out via a tight pair of the titular garments.

For more good-humoured gore, there is Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991), adapted from a Japanese anime and manga, which follows the imprisonment of a super-heroic saint and his various shenanigans behind bars. Said exploits generally involve Ricky punching his fist through the faces and bodies of numerous wicked wardens – but in a suitably exaggerated, early-Peter-Jackson-type fashion. And, depending on your sentiments, Raped by an Angel (1991) – in which a femme-molesting yuppie lawyer is provoked into attacking a scantily-dressed HIV-positive young woman by his battered and bruised ex-girlfriend – is either a really, really bad taste joke gone way too far or a successful attempt at indicating just how stupid, and tasteless, the entire rape-revenge genre is in the first place.


The Untold Story, which is set in Macau (then a Portuguese colony), Raped by an Angel, Red to Kill and Dr. Lamb all touch upon police brutality and/or the failings of legal establishments. However, in their deliberately evocative mix of sex and violence, Category III cinema is probably best viewed as Hong Kong’s last great gasp of ‘rub-it-in-your-face-anything-goes-freedom-of-expression’ before the handover to China (which had led to some actors and filmmakers, such as Leslie Cheung and John Woo, fleeing the city). Of course, post-1997 and the feared Tiananmen-style crackdown never appeared so Category III is still with us – albeit without the vicious vigour that it once had (for those curious, 2001’s self-explanatory Human Pork Chop and 2010’s brutal slasher bloodbath Dream Home pay perfect homage to the era). It is no coincidence, really, that the golden age is seen to have lasted between 1988 and 1997.


Hong Kong had been making edgy and esoteric spook-shows since the 1970s. While not as unpleasant as those that were unleashed during the Category III boom, Shaw Brothers classics such as Ghost Eyes (1974), Black Magic (1975), Hex (1980), Seeding of a Ghost (1983) and The Boxer’s Omen (1983) are creepily colourful and shrouded in a misty malevolence. The Shaw Brothers were also responsible for the unspeakably sadistic Killer Snakes (1974), which features plenty of reptiles being hacked asunder in the name of cinematic ‘art’. No, you probably don’t want to see it – although the birth of Category III can probably trace its lineage back to such nasty nihilism.


While the aforementioned Dream Home and Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky are available, uncut, in the UK on BluRay and DVD, the rest are a rare lot indeed. The Untold Story does exist on an import DVD, from America, but otherwise a shopping trip to Hong Kong is probably your best bet. Be warned though, as downloading and streaming continues to cast a stranglehold across Asia, many of Hong Kong’s DVD stores are shutting their doors. This means that such finds as Blue Jean Monster (on the Fortune Star label) or Ebola Syndrome (on Universe Laser) are fast becoming much sought after antiques amongst collectors. There is also the web site – which still has some of the prime movers and shakers in stock. Happy exploring – but bring a barf bag!