Dr. Lamb Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Unearthed Films
Directed by Danny Lee and Billy Tang
Written by Law Kam-fai
1992, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 9th, 2022
Simon Yam as Lam Gor-yue
Danny Lee as Inspector Lee
Kent Cheng as Fat Bing
Lau Siu-ming as Lam Gor-yue’s father
Parkman Wong as Bully Hung
Emily Kwan as Bo
Perrie Lai as Lam’s stepsister
A clerk at a photo lab develops some disturbing photographs and alerts the police. Agreeing the pictures are suspicious, the cops stake out the store and wait for the photographer to return. Detective Lee is in charge of the case and now with a suspect, Lam Gor-yue, in custody, the increasingly brutal interrogation begins. Lam is an overnight taxi driver who lives with his family and quickly confesses to killing four women he picked up on stormy nights. He goes on to describe, in detail, bringing their bodies back home and “doing things” with them before dismembering them while his family is away. The most disturbing part of this film is that it is based on the true story of one of China’s few known serial killers, Lam Kor-wan, currently serving a life sentence.
The Hong Kong film rating system has three categories, starting with family-friendly material at the bottom of the scale and increasing to the notorious Category III pictures that typically contain sexual content. It was soon discovered this rating could also be applied to graphic violence and the 1990s became inundated with over-the-top movies filled with gore and nudity. Torture and rape were taboo elements that also proved popular in the era. One of the most infamous Category III titles came relatively early in the cycle, Dr. Lamb, written by Law Kam-fai (Raped by an Angel 3) and directed by Danny Lee and Billy Tang (Red to Kill).
Simon Yam (Naked Killer) stars as the depraved Lam Gor-yue, who earned the nickname Dr. Lamb for his use of a scalpel to remove certain body parts from his victims and storing them in jars in his apartment. Yam delivers a batshit performance that is occasionally comical in just how big he goes, but this is within keeping of audience expectations of depictions of mental illness in 1990s Hong Kong cinema. Danny Lee (The Killer) co-stars as his foil, Det. Lee, a seasoned cop who is determined to learn what happened to these missing women. Yam and Lee share most of their scenes together and work well off each other. The supporting cast is made up of several familiar faces, most notably Kent Cheng (Once Upon A Time in China) as fellow cop Fat Bing and Julie Lee (Chinese Torture Chamber Story) as one of Lam’s victims.
Over the past thirty years, Dr. Lamb has earned a reputation as one of the more intense Category III titles and though less extreme than the torture porn subgenre in the early 2000s, it remains effectively creepy. Law Kam-fai and Danny Lee would reteam the following year for the infamous The Untold Story, starring Anthony Wong (The Ebola Syndrome). Simon Yam has gone on to enjoy a tremendously successful career and in 1999 starred in the thriller Trust Me U Die which is alternately known as The New Dr. Lamb, but has nothing to do with the original film or the crimes of Lam Kor-wan.
In October 2021, China imposed a sweeping national security law effectively banning all cinematic content deemed too violent, titillating or unpatriotic, thus putting a final nail in the Category III coffin. It is unclear if this law is retroactive to all films and if so, what will become of them. A number of boutique labels, including 88 Films, Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow Video, Eureka! and Unearthed Films are restoring and releasing uncut versions of some of the bigger titles, but there are countless others threatened with extinction. There are some Asian websites that sell Category III films, but they tend to go out of print rapidly. Whether you are a longtime fan of Hong Kong cinema or relatively new to the material, there is almost always something unexpectedly shocking in these films and I encourage you to pick them up while you can.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, picture quality is miles ahead of all previous releases, but there are still some flaws in the new HD transfer. Colors are much brighter and there is plenty of fine detail in closeups and wide shots alike. Black levels are solid but occasionally approach a level of crush in the darker scenes. A fairly steady stream of white speckles appears throughout.
Cantonese and Mandarin LPCM 2.0 mono tracks get the job done with the latter edging ahead in clarity. The rain storm sequences are immersive and music cues are effective without being intrusive. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
The audio commentary with Art Ettinger and Bruce Holecheck is a briskly paced, informative conversation that opens with a history of the true crime inspiration. We get an overview of the history of Category III films and the implications of the new censorship laws in Hong Kong. They go on to discuss the directors and cast members in detail and point out the differences in the edited versions of the film versus this uncut presentation.
In Lamb to the Slaughter (20 minutes), filmmaker Gilbert Po, the man responsible for bringing the Dr. Lamb production together, offers some brief biographical background on himself before moving on to the history of this film and the crimes that inspired it. He reflects on his efforts to push Category III films beyond just erotica into graphic violence and shares his thoughts on the current status of Hong Kong cinema.
Three Times the Fear (21 minutes) features film critic James Mudge detailing the Golden Age of Category III films and points to several of the more infamous titles worth checking out.
Film academic Sean Tierney (aka The Silver Spleen) shares his thoughts on the film in the featurette Cut and Run (16 minutes). He is not particularly fond of Yam’s performance and doesn’t believe the film lives up to the hype. He makes some fine points on the picture’s implicit depiction of the culture in the city circa 1990. He recaps the facts of the real case and discusses the film’s “kitchen sink” approach to giving audiences of the era everything they could want.
Yam Can Chat: Atomic TV Talks to Hong Kong Superstar Simon Yam (8 minutes) is an archival interview shot at Baltimore’s Otakon 2000 Anime Convention. The piece covers a wide range of topics from his Hong Kong hits to his love of US cinema and working in multiple genres. He also talks about his personal life and charity work.
A theatrical trailer has been included along with trailers for additional Unearthed Films releases.
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