Wicked City (Hong Kong, 1992)

I was tipped off to the existence of this movie, which was directed by Tai Kit Mak and written by Tsui Hark, via an article by sf writer Walter Jon Williams, "Old Man, Your Kung Fu is Useless" in which he calls it "the weirdest movie ever made."

Although by the time I finish describing Wicked City, it will probably seem to have earned that superlative several times over, the truth is that while you're watching the film, it only feels like the second-weirdest movie ever made. Especially if you've seen lots of Hong Kong cinema already.

A film like Jet Li's New Legend of Shaolin, which lulls you with long intervals of seeming like a relatively normal kung fu movie and then zaps you with something like the trilobite car or the wax museum, gains extra weirdness points because every time something bizarre happens, your bizarro-meter has clicked down to around 30, so the bounce to 100 registers more than if it never dropped below 80 after the first five minutes.

Wicked City doesn't drop much below 80 after the first five minutes.

If you look up Williams' article (and you should) note that the subtitles on my DVD were different from the ones on his copy. The characters had different names, and what his film called "rapters" and the Internet Movie Database called "reptoids," mine unimaginatively called monsters. (I note that there is apparently an entire net-based community which believes that reptilian aliens known as reptoids are living underground and controlling us. Alas, these reptoids are not as classy as the ones in Wicked City -- not a liquid one in the batch, nor do they wear suits or transform into living motorcycles -- and the Web page itself is nowhere near as bonkers as my favorite homepage by a gibbering maniac, the classic timecube.com. (Timecube appears to have been conceived when a raving loon misinterpreted the concept of time zones to mean that there are four days in every day. This, combined with a lack of knowledge as to how many sides a cube, plus a determination to tell the world how "the dumb, stupid and evil bastards have ignored their obligation to their humanity fellowship to research time cube, has "produced an astonishing Web site which scores about five hundred on the physics crackpot scale, complete with rotating drawings in crayon.)

To drag myself back to Wicked City (if you watch it you too will find your mind going off in a million peculiar directions, like gerbils in a hypercube) I will give a technical run-down before I get into the plot. Because once I get into the plot, my mind will evaporate under the stress, and you will never learn how the cinematography is (moody, stylish, and extremely slick), or the acting (solid all round, and though unspectacular, one must give the actors points for delivering coherent performances while, in some cases, having sex with living pinball machines), or the special effects (extremely imaginative and well-done, though one gets the impression that most of the budget went toward hiring a director of photography who could make one Hong Kong dollar look like twenty).

Right. The plot. Well. We're in contemporary Hong Kong, several years prior to the take-over by China, which the characters seem anxious about. This is a peculiar attitude, given the more pressing issue at hand, which is that there's this race of beings called monsters (or reptoids or rapters) which look human but can shoot energy beams from their hands, make jumbo jets insubstantial, fly, stop time, and turn into just about anything, including water, large masses of glop, and pinball machines. Some of the monsters are malevolent, some want to make peace with the humans. It's implied that most humans are unaware of the existence of monsters. This may be a metaphor for the impending takeover of Hong Kong by China. Then again, it may not be.

The heroes, Lung (Leon Lai) and Ying (Jacky Cheung) are members of a Men In Black-like Anti-Monster Squad. They wear suits and glasses and kill monsters. Except that Lung is conflicted because he had an affair with a beautiful monster, and Ying is conflicted because his mother was a monster. During the course of the film, doubts about Ying's loyalty cause him to get fired about six times. We never see him re-hired -- he just keeps turning up on the job and getting fired again. The Anti-Monster Squad must have one heck of a union. The hatchet-faced chief who keeps firing him, incidentally, is played by Yuen Woo-ping, the great fight choreographer who directed the action sequences for The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, among many others.

Meanwhile, a drug called Happiness, which is apparently coming from the monsters, is causing people to drop dead and evaporate. Lung is sent to the 150th birthday party of the monster head honcho, Yuen, to investigate this. But when he gets there, he finds that there are schisms within the monster society, and he's not the only gatecrasher. A monster assassin tries to kill Yuen. The assassin spikes the drinks with liquid monsters, which are then revoltingly vomited forth. We find out that some humans (or maybe all of them) have the psychic power to produce magnetic fields which cause telekinetic effects and inhibit monster powers. Lung's gorgeous monster ex-girlfriend, with whom he shares a disturbingly dysfunctional relationship, gets poisoned twice with two different poisons. Yuen's son gets it on with a cyborg monster female pinball machine and racks up a record score.

Someone could write a brief thesis on the extremely peculiar sexual overtones in this film, which is packed with aggressive phallic symbols, women merging with hardware and being literally manipulated by men, and intricate overlapping sado-masochistic male-female relationships. But it will not be me.

During the final showdown, time stops, a giant clock chases Lung and Ying, Yuen and his son battle atop a jumbo jet which flies through skyscrapers without damaging them but eventually lands atop one with a thud, an arm the length of a city block chases the Anti-Monster Squad, Yuen's son turns into a reptoid-headed land-kraken, Yuen rides a cyborg monster female motorcycle, everyone comes to terms with their heritage, and the walls melt. So will your brain.

[Rachel Brown]