Monday, March 14, 2011

Dr. Lamb : Cat III Part 3

Dr. Lamb is along with The Untold story, the most infamous movie from the early 90's golden age of Category III films. Based on a series of real murders that happened in Hong Kong in 1982. The movie stars Simon Yam as a psychotic Taxi Driver and Danny Lee as the police inspector investigating the case and was co-directed by Danny Lee and Billy Tang.
Dr. Lamb opens with a brief look at the childhood of the psycho, presumably to show some cause and effect for what he becomes later on but it isn't very effective and it just delays the real start of the movie. When the film really begins we great some great night time shots of Hong Kong, that are very atmospheric and clearly inspired by Taxi driver. The atmosphere created throughout is probably the strongest element of this film.

The police have been tipped off by a photo developer about some unusual photos a client has had developed, the police stake out the photo store waiting for the owner to pick up his pictures. Once they have him, they try to get a confession from him, slowly they learn through their investigation that he has killed four missing women, taking photos of their corpses. Lamb doesn't want to confess so we get some police brutality to help him change his mind, utilising hammers to the chest and sticks on the soles of his feet, its pretty unpleasant stuff. When he eventually does confess, we have flashbacks of the murders that are intercut with the ongoing investigation, where the police are finding more and more evidence of Lamb's atrocities.

The confession comes around half an hour into the film, and from there Dr. Lamb takes a turn for the bizarre. During the first flashback, he picks a woman up in his cab and he is perfectly normal, irritated by her but normal, all of a sudden thunder starts on the soundtrack and Simon Yam begins an incredibly strange transformation, its like a 1940's werewolf or Jekyll and Hyde movie but without any makeup, he starts twitching and stretching his hands out, as though claws are going to appear, but no actual physical changes are made. Lamb then starts to howl and sniff like a dog or wolf at the woman in the cab before actually killing her. The screen cap above is of his sniffing, it isn't very clear as the dvd was terrible. I found the whole sequence hilarious, somehow I don't think that is what the filmmakers were aiming for.

Simon Yam's performance is actually pretty good throughout the movie, some strange choices aside, considering the lack of character development he has. Danny Lee seems more subdued than is usual for him, maybe it was the pressure of co-directing. A special mention must be given to the actresses who played the victims, particularly the first and last ones, they are real troopers.

Dr. Lamb was not as gory as I anticipated, although the Hong Kong dvd I saw is cut in quite a few of the gorier sequences. As I already mentioned the HK dvd as well as being cut for violence, has picture quality that is barely better than a vcd and also has its cantonese swearing bleeped, I don't ever recall seeing an HK disc bleeped for language before. It also some very funny subtitles caused by too literal a translation in some spots. If you want to know details of the cuts from the dvd go here

The feel of Dr. Lamb is completely confused, as a fan of Hong Kong cinema sudden shifts in tone are nothing new, but as this film is so repugnant and scummy right from the start, the mixture of slapstick comedy, unintentional comedy and general queasiness of the subject matter, don't mix well at all. As a result of that though, it makes the comedy all the funnier, for those of you who have seen the film the scene in the screen cap above is one of the funnier moments, but the funniest of all is near the end when the cops are watching the video with the breast being removed and Kent Cheng feels his own man boobs in sympathy, screen cap below.

Ultimately the comedy waters down the more horrifying aspects of the movie, and so doesn't really work for me as a horror film, I'm not really sure what it actually is, the Dr. Lamb character isn't developed enough for it to be a character study as some claim, and I don't think I could class it as even the blackest of comedies given some of the scenes in the film. The only category I could put Dr. Lamb in is Cat III, which is what its for I suppose!

It really is strong stuff in places and even with the BBFC's change in attitude in the last ten years or so, I still don't think Dr. Lamb would be given a video certificate, certainly not without cuts and possibly at all.

Overall while it would be difficult to say I enjoyed it, I did appreciate many aspects of it, as I mentioned earlier the photography is very good and the atmosphere is very strong even with the comedy. I don't think it is something I will forget in a hurry but I don't think I will be in a rush to watch it again very soon either.

Next up for Cat III : The Untold story. Finally some Anthony Wong!


Kingwho? said...

Nice! Glad you 'kinda' enjoyed it. I suppose this film isn't for all HK film fans? The directors, Billy Tang and Danny Lee did a great job mixing atmosphere and gruesome elements while really sticking to major points from the real story. Hong Kong cinema, especially around this time, was 'everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink!' Dr. Lamb does have black bits of comedy that sometimes seem out of place in a dark chronicle, such as this. I do mention in the podcast (THAT IS OUT TOMORROW) about the sliced breast/Kent Cheng scene possibly being out of place, but damn it, I'm glad it's there, as you will never forget it!

I have seen many films where dialogue is bleeped out. It usually occurs in triad flicks when characters mention the name of a triad. Also, as in Dr. Lamb, when language may have been too salty mixed with the grizzly images. This happens often enough in early 90's HK films. The visual cuts made are minor and what you saw in the HK dvd is fine. You didn't miss anything.

By the way, I know you aren't a CAT III fan but have you seen the early Milkyway thriller, INTRUDER, with Wayne Lai, Wu Chien-lin, and Moses Chan? It is one of my top 10 HK films of all time! It's CAT III-lite as there is no sex and nudity but a ton of creepy atmosphere and some violence. It is excellent! And being a Milkyway film, might be up your alley? Highly, highly, recommended.

Great post!

A hero never dies said...

Thanks Kingwho? Can't wait to listen to the podcast now I've seen the movie. Do you mention the transformation that I refer to, and the howling? If not do you have any thoughts on what its all about?

I do have a vcd of Intruder and I have seen it, I forgot it was cat III, I'll dig it out and cover that too, I do remember thinking it was really good, probably the least well known of the Milkyway films, do you know if a dvd ever came out? Or if a laserdisc exists?

YTSL said...

Hi "A hero never dies" --

Another fruitful dip into the Category III "pool", it sounds like! I have to say that "Dr Lamb" was less enjoyable viewing for me than "Naked Killer" or "The Story of Ricky". Even so, am glad I saw it because it's one of those movies that really is unconventional and unusual. More than BTW, it's based on real life events -- and so too are other Category III films like "The Untold Story"! :O

Kingwho? said...

The podcast is out now. And, IIRC, Ken does briefly mention the scene that you are talking about. You are right about the Jekyll/Hyde effect of that scene but I think Ken and I took it in a more chilling way rather than comical. I can see where you get that though. It is an interesting transformation scene as Yam does indeed turn into a wolf of sorts before murdering. He is out of his damn mind, so the scene alluding to transforming into a wolf, fits for me.

I have only seen the VCD of INTRUDER but there is an uncut German dvd out there somewhere? I don't believe the cuts are that major?

The Untold Story is another nasty film. The police in the film are the exact same characters, save for Kent Cheng, that are in Dr. Lamb, just transfered to Macau. There is also more off putting humor in The Untold Story but it is established early on and pretty much runs the length of the film. The comedic moments and gore elements make fore a fun and unsettling mix. Fun!

A hero never dies said...

Hi YTSL, Yeah those two are more enjoyable, and I'd be much more likely to revisit those, but as you say Dr. Lamb has its merits!

Kingwho? I've got the podcast ready to go and will listen to it today.

I've searched ebay and that German dvd of Intruder shows up from an American seller, too rich for me though I'm afraid!

Looking forward to seeing some Wong action in Untold story.

A. said...

So which is superior? Naked Killer or Story of Ricky? The only thing I know about Dr. Lamb is (correct me if I'm wrong) is that there is no character named Dr.Lamb.

A hero never dies said...

They're both great fun, with great looking women in Naked killer and unbelievable amounts of gore in Ricky, see both!

You're right he isn't a Dr. but he has surgical anatomy books to learn how to dissect bodies hence the name, its not so much fun! Still worth watching though if you can stomach it.

M C Thomason said...

Hey...Dr. Lamb! How about that, I should read more of your I just revamped and reposted my own (10 year old) review of the movie over at my page! I keep thinking I should do a new "retro-review" of the film, but everything I wanted to say about it is here...

How about that? Chance...or coincidence? :p

A hero never dies said...

I'd appreciate it if you would read more Mike, I could do with the boost to my stats!

I've just had a look at your link, really good as always, so much detail. I'm thinking of doing Intruder next in my Cat III films series, I think it maybe more palatable than Untold story!

M C Thomason said...

I blame not reading your blog as much as I'd like to on tricky health, family life...and that funny little blog that ppl seem to like and ask for more content on. :p

But seriously, from memory (as I only ever saw it in the cinema) Intruder was pretty darn good! Milkyway Cat-III horror! Can you believe it? Like Dream Home recently, Intruder also fell victim to the HK censors...but I believe the DVD that got released in Europe was uncut (?).

Look forward to it! :D

PS: Finished my Triple Tap review and uploaded this evening. Will post it tomorrow once I've done screenshots and attached them.

Kingwho? said...

Great review MC! I just love Dr. Lamb so much =)

I rewatched Intruder last night in prep to make a blog post about it later in the week. Half way through I stopped jotting down notes as I was just blown away yet again. That movie is damn near perfect in every beat. HK Hitchcockian in so many ways. Alas, since my note taking stalled I will most likely keep the comments short and just throw up a few images from the poster. You guys are much better at reviews anyway =)

Intruder remains in my top 10 HK films of all time. =)

A hero never dies said...

I've dug my Intruder vcd out today and will be watching soon....

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