‘Ebola Syndrome’ directed by Herman Yau (1993's 'The Untold Story') is an infamous Hong Kong Cat III entry. Since 1988 Category III has been Hong Kong’s most restrictive certificate - “No persons younger than 18 years of age are permitted to rent, purchase, or watch this film in the cinema.” - the equivalent of North America’s NC-17 and X-ratings. The movies are extremely graphic in nature with their gory depictions of violence and/or are sexually explicit.
It stars Anthony Wong (also of 'The Untold Story') as Kai San the most despicable human being you could hope not to meet. A perverted violent demented scumbag who has no qualms of raping and murdering who contracts the Ebola virus that dissolves the internal organs causing the victim to bleed both internally and externally with symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhoea etc. With no cure, death from massive blood loss is during the second week of infection. However, Kai just so happens to be 1 in 10 million immune to the lethal disease and unknown to him becomes a carrier spreading it around to anyone who is exposed to his bodily fluids - blood, saliva and semen. The film is as nasty and vile as expected although smattered with blacker than black humour throughout the mean spirited proceedings.
In a gripping and shocking opening sequence in the setting of Hong Kong, China in 1986 after being caught by his mob boss with his wife in a compromising position Kai brutally massacring both of them and his boss’s henchmen then pours petrol over their 10-year-old daughter Lily. Before he gets the chance to set her alight though a concerned neighbour interrupts him walking in and Kai runs out.
Flashing forwards to the present day of the year of the movie’s release in 1996, Kai has been on the run since the murders and has relocated hiding out in Johannesburg, South Africa where he has started a new life working as a chef in a Taiwanese owned restaurant. His boss’s wife Ling (a gorgeous Lu Cheung) is a mean woman constantly picking on Kai. The grown up Lily (Wong Tsui-ling) is now working as an air stewardess and it just so happens and maybe fate intervened that she has a stopover in Johannesburg. She goes to the restaurant with her boyfriend and two friends who are all co-workers and although she does not recognize Kai from his appearance, she does his scent as his smell reminds her of her traumatic ordeal making her feel sick and bringing on flashbacks and has a nightmare of the tragic event later that night.
The next day Kai goes on a trip with his boss Kei (Meng Lo) driving a pickup truck to the South African outback to visit a native Zulu tribe to buy some cheap pig meat for the restaurant. This is set up in an earlier scene as Kei’s usual supplier a local butcher is charging him too much. When they get there, they witness some kind of strange ritual in the curing of sick tribes’ people. On their way back, Kai crashes the pickup into a tree when a herd of elephants walk out into the road. Getting into an argument with Kei, Kai gets out and walks off leaving Kei to fix the vehicle. Kai comes across a Zulu tribes’ woman that he spotted on the way there. She falls to the ground as if fainting, Kai runs over to her, and seeing this is an opportunity, he rapes her while she is unconscious. She then goes into convulsions but Kai cannot pull out and she spurs out vomit all over his face. In order to break free Kai reaches for a nearby rock and repeatedly caves her face in until she is dead. Getting back to the pickup Kei has fixed it and they make their way back to the restaurant.
Kai starts to get sick and comes down with a high fever but suddenly it stops. Just as he is feeling better, he overhears, as he gets up from a sofa upstairs in the restaurant the wretched Ling on the phone to her cousin to come help her dump him in the woods. In a rage Kai attacks her and ripping her clothes off is about to rape her when Kei walks in returning from the doctor where he has learned that the Zulu tribe are infected with the Ebola virus. After some fighting Kai eventually kills Kei and then gets to rape Ling before killing her too. As he is cleaning up the mess Ling’s cousin walks in whom Kai also kills. Dismembering the bodies, he then turns the flesh into burger meat and the next day serves it all to the customers as complementary freebies telling the rest of the staff that Kai and Ling have gone to Taiwan. As well as feeding the public human meat, he is also spreading the disease.
Lily and her boyfriend go back to the restaurant later that night to find out about Kai and his scent again makes her feel sick. They ask him if a man of the same name as his is working at the restaurant making out that Lily is looking for a lost relative. He tells them that a Kai worked there before but has moved to another town. Kai goes out back into the kitchen telling them he will make some tea and picks up a knife. Just as he is about to attempt to kill them though, a couple of customers walk in just as they get up and leave. Convinced he is Kai, they go to the police and the customers from the restaurant start to come down with the Ebola virus but Kai having found Kei and Ling’s hidden stash of cash now a lot richer the in disguise Ebola carrier flies back to Hong Kong as does later Lily and her boyfriend. Outbreak mayhem ensures.
With the exception of the rape of the Zulu woman I touched upon the other gruesome sequences of violence and depravity leaving out the specifics to prevent spoilers for those of you who have yet to see this one sick puppy as it sure does live up to its notorious reputation. Kai San is a deeply unpleasant crazed and perverse character yet we are in his company for most of the runtime as he is the central player that moves the narrative along. Having such an unlikable character as the protagonist should not work, as there is no way we can identify with him and if anyone can, they need serious help. Kai is an angry hateful man who holds a grudge against anybody he feels has “bullied” him and he commits the most heinous and repellent acts. Yet this protagonist/antagonist hybrid works very effectively due to Wong’s magnificent charisma with a powerhouse performance that boarders on the comical that helps to keep us invested in his fucked up story.
The violence and other disgusting scenes deliberately presented in an over the top fashion gels with the crazy nature of the plot. Never once though does it feel forced - violence for the sake of violence - as it is all instrumental to the story and in aiding Anthony Wong’s blistering portrayal of the maniac Kai that the actor seems to relish with much gusto in showing what a perverted and psychopathic shitbag he really is. As unashamedly sleazy it all is and as unflinching as the violence is with fantastic special make-up effects, the black comedy sprinkled throughout is handled so cleverly that it makes the viewer laugh at just the most inappropriate moments. So much so that it may force you to ask yourself what kind of person you are to be laughing at such horrific displays of sub-human abominations. At the same time though, this never takes away the seriousness of the ghastly situations as the characters themselves react with natural terror. Well researched, the most disturbing elements come from the realistically depicted symptoms of the Ebola victims with their suffering really leaving a harrowing last impression.
Having seen ‘Ebola Syndrome’ a few times now at the time of writing it is a movie that never fails to entertain me. From Wong’s engaging performance, the zaniness of the storyline with what is essentially distasteful subject matter to the pitch perfect timed black as coal humour it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of exploitation from beginning to end that I thoroughly recommend.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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