DIRECTED BY: Tai Kit Mak (AKA Mak Tai Kit, Peter Mak)
FEATURING: Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Tatsuya Nakadai, Roy Cheung
PLOT: Members of a secret government agency in Hong Kong charged with destroying shapeshifting “monsters” investigate a new killer street drug nicknamed “Happiness.”
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is some admirable craziness here, but the combination of needlessly arty Dutch angles, poor pacing, and uneven special effects doom City‘s List aspirations. (A less murky print than current thrift-shop-VHS quality transfer would have helped).
COMMENTS: Wicked City is shot in an unreal neon-noir style, with hazy pale-blue lighting with accents of red and green, and the camera constantly tilted to one side to suggest an off-center universe. It’s an affectation that quickly becomes annoying, since we need no encouragement to view a world in which characters say lines like “as you know, my mother was a monster”—and mean it literally—-as fantasy. There are some amazingly clipped scenes: one minute, two agents are sitting in a busy go-go bar. One says, “I think there are monsters here” and in the very next shot the entire human clientele lies dead. Such rushed exposition adds a dreamlike quality to the proceedings. Although the plot, which involves mixed loyalties, betrayals, and a human-monster-monster love triangle, is too silly and obvious to be gripping, there are some wacky action set pieces. A courtesan turns into a spider lady, cutlery flies through the air of its own accord, agents lock hands to create an anti-monster magnetic field, our heroes employ Schwarzeneggeresuqe quips against a killer clock (“how time flies!”), and the climactic battle takes place on the wings of a jet liner in flight. Best of all is the scene where one of the monsters has sex with a pinball machine—not on a pinball machine, with a pinball machine. Overall, Wicked City‘s effects are cheap, and the tone is B-movie operatic. Still, it’s probably as much fun as Hollywood’s Men in Black, and significantly weirder.
Wicked City is an adaptation of a Japanese novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi (who also wrote the source material for Vampire Hunter D). It was more famously adapted in Japan as an anime in 1987. Hong Kong New Wave baron Tsui Hark produced this live-action version. Because the film bears many of his hallmarks (fast-paced, effects and stunt-heavy fantasy), some speculate that he may have had an uncredited hands-on role in the direction (as is often suspected of films the prolific Hark produced).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The action/fantasy scenes lack the kinesis and wildness that come in the work of other contemporaries of this era such as Ching Siu-Tung and the film’s producer Tsui Hark.”–Richard Scheib, “Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review”
(This movie was nominated for review by “Dani,” who said “. I found it on VHS in a thrift store and it blew my mind.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)