Ebola Syndrome 4K UHD/Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome

Directed by Herman Yau
Written by Ting Chau
1996, 100 minutes, Not Rated
Released on January 25th, 2022

Starring:
Anthony Wong as Kai
Yeung-Ming as Yeung
Chui Ling as Lily
Miu-Ying Chin as Har
Lo Meng as Boss Kei
Cheung Lu as Ling

 

Review:

We meet Kai in Hong Kong, 1986 as he is engaging in a sex act with his boss’ wife, having sent her young daughter Lily out to play. Her husband comes home and beats and humiliates Kai, and in turn Kai murders him, his wife, and the man’s assistant. Before leaving, Kai remembers Lily and pours gasoline on her but is interrupted before finishing the job. He flees the city and ten years later we find him working as a cook in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kai routinely spits in the food or worse. He joins his boss on a meat run to a local Zulu village where he comes across a dying woman that he decides to rape and murder. The joke’s on him, however, because she has Ebola!

A grown Lily happens to visit Kai’s restaurant with her fiancé and recognizes Kai’s unique stench. She reports him to the police, but they cannot help based on a lack of evidence. Kai meanwhile murders the restaurant’s owner and his wife and chops them up with a cleaver, grinding the meat into patties and selling them as hamburgers the next day. Soon, people start coming down with Ebola, but as fate would have it, Kai is asymptomatic and is a super-spreader. When Lily returns asking questions, Kai decides it’s time to split and he returns to Hong Kong to spread his infectious personality among the masses – and this is where the nightmare really begins.

Jesus Christ – where to begin?!

In the late 1980s, the Hong Kong board of censors installed a rating system of three categories of films and the age-appropriate audience. Category III was the strongest and dealt with primarily extreme movies featuring high levels of adult content and graphic violence, including erotica, rape, torture and murder. The films carrying this rating are more in line with the UK list of banned Video Nasties than the R or NC-17 ratings in the United States.

 

Ebola Syndrome revels in its depravity as audiences are introduced to anti-hero Kai, the vilest and repugnant wretch in Hong Kong. Even before he becomes infected with Ebola, he is offensive in every way and has zero respect for the people around him. He has a volatile temper, is a sexual deviant, misogynist, murderer and rapist – but he is also a spineless coward easily cowed and looked down upon by anyone who stands up to him. When first infected, he is physically weakened but quickly recovers and unknowingly becomes highly contagious. Once he learns of the disease he carries, his reaction is to try to spread it as much as possible by biting and spitting on people in the street. Kai is a loathsome prick and a world-class asshole representing the very worst humanity has to offer – and I couldn’t stop watching.

The great Anthony Wong (Hard Boiled, the Infernal Affairs trilogy) accepts the challenge of playing such a total piece of garbage, filling Kai with an undeniable screen presence. Wong is fearless in the role and commands your undivided attention as he commits one atrocious act after another. Whether he is pouring gasoline on a child, masturbating into uncooked poultry, raping dying women or grinding up human meat to serve to others, Wong owns every second of his screen time, making Kai a totally watchable and unforgettable character.

Director Herman Yau (Taxi Hunter, Sleep Curse) has worked with Anthony Wong numerous times over the years, notably on one of the most notorious Category III titles, the infamous The Untold Story (1993). Yau doesn’t pull any punches in terms of delivering shock value in Ebola Syndrome, but never loses control while pushing the envelope. He masterfully guides us through the depravity and manages to include some moments of pitch-black comedy and also of natural beauty featuring the wildlife in South Africa. There are some uncomfortable bits of casual racism, but that is the least of Kai’s reprehensible behavior. There are many unexpected turns in the script, but what surprised me most based on all of the rape and misogyny was learning it was written by a woman, Ting Chau (Troublesome Night, Best of the Best).

Ebola Syndrome is quite the ride and is definitely worth watching as a passage into the world of Category III cinema. Not to give the impression that all of these films are no-holds-barred anarchy – some earn the rating without going to the extremes Yau does here – but there are plenty that try. If you are an Anthony Wong fan, you are likely already familiar with this title, but if you have somehow missed out on his work this is a must-see. This is a film that makes you feel dirty both watching and recommending, but this deserves a place in your collection.

 

Video and Audio:

After years of censored, muddy VHS and DVD releases, longtime fans will rejoice at the clarity and detail-rich imagery found here. Once again, Vinegar Syndrome delivers another knockout transfer that will make your eyes pop. The original uncut camera negative has been given a 4K scan and restoration bringing new life to the picture, presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are no scratches or other debris to be found, but there is a fine level of film grain throughout. The colors on display are gorgeous whether showcasing the daytime African savannas or Hong Kong’s busy nightlife.

A DTS-HD MA 2.0 Cantonese mono track gets the job done with a healthy mix of dialogue, music and sound effects. There is some occasional slippage in lip-sync, but that stems from the source recordings. The wonderfully generic blend of chopping and punching sound effects are equally fun. Previous releases shared some of the worst subtitle translations, but here we get newly revised and more accurate English subtitles included for anyone in need.

 

Special Features:

Director Herman Yau and star Anthony Wong deliver an informative audio commentary filled with interesting behind-the-scenes stories. We learn that much of the dialogue and action were improvised. They also discuss filming scenes in South Africa and provide info on members of the cast and crew. We also get their thoughts on Wong’s performance and certain camera shots. The conversation is in Chinese with English subtitles (each speaker identified by name). There is a note at the beginning stating that the commentary was recorded while the participants watched a censored print. Vinegar Syndrome has replaced the cut footage but the track refers to shots that are missing from the version they are watching.

Film historian Samm Deighan provides a thoughtful and engaging audio commentary that opens with a slow walk through the world of Category III cinema. Her insights are very helpful and will make you want to keep a running list of titles to hunt down. She has a lot to say about the production, primarily praising the work of Wong and Yau and pointing to tonal shifts in the material.

Herman Yau sits for a newly-recorded interview (2021, 22 minutes) in which he begins by reflecting on Hong Kong filmmaking in the mid-to-late ‘90s and the volume of films at the time. He talks about the Category III classification and working with legendary producer Wong Jing and cinematographer Puccini Yu. He has fond memories of collaborating with screenwriter Chau Ting and concludes with thoughts on the language barriers in world cinema and how it leads to a loss of meaning.

In Cantonese with Dr. Yau (2021, 12 minutes), the director discusses the often horrible English subtitles of Chinese films and how certain slang is lost in translation, and the context of some of the cultural references in the film.

In an undated archival interview (16 minutes) Yau looks back at getting into film, working as a cinematographer and meeting Anthony Wong. He continues with his thoughts on Category III films, the extremes of this script and censorship by mainland China. Wong is seated next to him but doesn’t contribute much to the conversation.

 

Grades:

Movie: Cover
Cover
Video:
Audio:
Features:
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer

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