Media Blasters released a DVD of Tsui Hark’s second film on their Tokyo Shock imprint a while back, but I gave it a miss because what I took from the description was that it was a gross-out horror film about cannibals. Eventually I read enough about We Are Going to Eat You to understand that it was a martial arts horror comedy, and I was able to lump it in my head with films like Sammo Hung’s Enounter of the Spooky Kind from the same year. So I gave it a try. Needless to say, Tsui’s film is more outrageous and extreme than Hung’s, but despite a fair amount of sometimes squicky gore it still works just as much as a comedy as a horror film. The scary masks straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre actually look pretty danged goofy from the right angles.
Tsui was considered part of the Hong Kong New Wave at this early point in his career. I’m not real familiar with the history, but I think the HK New Wave was a group of younger directors who brought a more punk, rebellious attitude to their films, perhaps with more of a focus on contemporary urban alienation. The comedy of We Are Going to Eat You is quite satirical, although I have to confess that I completely missed that the cannibal cult itself was a satire of communism, with a professed ideology of equal distribution of human meat actually resulting in the chief (evil Eddy Ko) and his minions getting almost all of it, while everybody else has to eat rice. But Tsui also mocks priests, intelligentsia, rural hicks, and pretty much everybody else, including our hero, Agent 999 (Norman Chu in a rare good guy part), who is a bit dim.
Agent 999 has come to a mysterious river island in search of a criminal named Rolex. Rolex, for his part, is so horrified by the cannibalism on the island that he’s abandoned his life of crime and infiltrated the cannibal cult in an attempt to stop the butchery. Agent 999 also finds himself allied with a slacker-counterculture type who has come to the island to goof off but proves surprisingly adept in the art of survival. When Agent 999 is nursed back to health by the chief’s abused girlfriend, Eileen, the band of rebels grows, joined by Eileen’s picked-on younger brother.
The political commentary, such as it is, is largely hidden behind a welter of clever martial arts action choreographed by Corey Yuen (the highlight coming when Agent 999 rolls a cigarette on the forehead of an antagonist during a fight) and a barrage of crude jokes about bodily functions and pubic hair. Tsui’s anarchic humor is already in full swing, and it’s difficult to read the political nuances of the giant woman, played by a man, who tries to rape just about all the pretty young men she meets, including Agent 999. The absolutely frantic pace, shameless jokes, and love of the weird reminded me at times of the Yuen Clan movies of the early ’80s such as Shaolin Drunkard and Taoism Drunkard. The big action finale involving fire crackers and roller skates is incredibly silly — a mockery of big action finales. Then comes the bizarre punchline that cuts the heart out of the love story, such as it is.
It’s kind of a mess, but I suppose that goes with the anarchy. What holds it together, aside from Tsui’s boisterous attitude, is the eccentric beauty of the visual compositions, already full of canted angles and fisheye distortions and surprising moments of symmetry amidst the chaos. I’ve long been curious about Tsui’s first few films, which have been hard to see in the US, and now I’ve just spotted The Butterfly Murders (1979) and Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980) on YouTube. I hope to get to those next.