Emotional Setup, Insane Final Act — Billy Tang’s “Red to Kill” (1994)

Directed by Hin Sing “Billy” Tang

Synopsis
While a mother is pleaded with not to leap from a window with her son in her arms, another woman is grabbed from behind and dragged to the uppermost floor of the same apartment complex by a muscular, quivery-breathing nutsoid. She’s gagged with a squeaky toy. Both arms are wrenched back behind her, breaking them and apparently killing her. She’s undressed. Her body is desecrated. This isn’t your typical jackrabbit hump, it’s a heaving, thrusting powerhouse rape, the kind that would knock pictures from walls and topple lamps over if committed against a headboard. The act is full-frontal graphic, made even more graphic by its hammering violence and victim’s unresponsiveness. Meanwhile, the suicidal mother drags her son (an obvious dummy) to their deaths. Her spine cracks in half on a concrete wall.

Red to Kill 1

Flag Hong Kong

Deeply affected by her inability to defuse the previous night’s murder-suicide, social worker Cheung resigns from her job. Her superior informs her that her resignation will take three months to go through, and sends her on her final case, to retrieve and work with a “minor mentally-retarded” girl named Ming Ming whose father was run down by a car that morning. After informing the poor girl of her father’s passing, Cheung helps her move into a dorm at the Social Welfare Department Sheltered Workshop and Hostel, a group home for handicapped young persons.

Well, it isn’t long before another woman is killed there and an angry mob of villagers shows up at the front gate of the building, blaming its residents for the recent murders. One angry villager yells at the head of the program, “You let me fuck and ass and I say you’re good, damn!” An irate woman seconds that, shouting, “You let people touch your ass and say he’s good, damn!” — incomprehensible translations, gotta love ’em. Program head Chang and Miss Cheung dismiss the accusations, insisting their wards are innocent — of below-average intelligence, but well intentioned and completely incapable of such acts.

Later that night, they’re proven half wrong when an awkward pedophile tenant (the term “sex lupine” is thrown around a few times — another bad translation?) drunkenly solicits what looks like a ten-year-old in one of the building’s many blue-tinted stairwells and gets gang-beaten with brooms by the rest of the shelter’s inhabitants for it, all while the real killer watches on, creepily hyperventilating around a corner at the end of the hall. “Crash your penis! Then, you can’t fuck anymore!” the crowd yells, hauling their catch to the cops. The killer is then shown shrieking like a wild animal and choking mannequins in a state of mental torment.

It’s elaborated through flashback that he watched as his father and younger brother were slashed to death as a child by his infidelitous (totally a word) mother and her boyfriend, which understandably fucked him up. His mother wore red that fateful evening. Red clothes are his trigger now, whipping him into a shark-like feeding — scratch that, raping — frenzy. “Why do you wear red clothes?!” he demands of his victims. “I hate red clothes most!” Perhaps surprisingly, this character is aware of his ways and can sense when he’s moments shy of losing his shit, haltingly warning people to “Go! Go! Go away!” like someone that’s shapeshifting into a lycanthrope.

The question is, who is it, and can they be stopped? Will Ming Ming, Cheung and the rest of the shelter’s women be safe from his squeaky toys, lethal arm breaking and postmortem perversions?

Review (SPOILERS)
Red to Kill is a Chinese-language, Hong Kongese exploitation thriller. It’s rated “Category III”, which is comparable to the BBFC’s “18”, or the MPAA’s “NC-17”, if the latter necessitated an extra year of forbiddance.

Red to Kill 3

It’s easy to see why it’s rated this way. Red to Kill is a few things — dramatic, intermittently funny and light-hearted, an eventual action-fest, but above all, it’s a rape movie. Its scenes of sexual violence are not only dark in the literal sense — shown in this dreamy, moonlight-blue hue — but figuratively as well. They linger, they’re graphic and they’re fairly mean-spirited. There’s nothing erotic about them, except, ironically, the way the assailant’s chiseled physique is photographed, like a “majestic predator” taking down its prey, as at least one reviewer has described it. Roughly halfway through the movie, co-main character Ming Ming, who, let me remind you, is mentally-handicapped, is forced onto a table, declothed and raped into unconsciousness. Showering that night, she’s so overcome with disgust, she hacks at her pubic hair with a straight razor until she bleeds. It’s heart wrenching.

And then, well, the ending.

Red to Kill is a weird one, and mightn’t necessarily go where anyone would expect it to. The identity of its killer, for example, is revealed thirty minutes in, not at the onset, and not as a random psychopath, as an outwardly well-mannered, well-adjusted character that just so happens to occasionally fiend for rape like the members of GWAR fiend for crack. This wasn’t a revelation I saw coming. For some reason, I was envisioning the perpetrator as some feral nutjob that lived in the building’s walls, or a vacant room, or what-not, like the Coffin Baby character from Tobe Hooper’s Toolbox Murders remake. I must be too accustomed to United Statesian tropes and conventions.

Red to Kill 2

Roughly fifty minutes in, the killer is apprehended. At this point, the exploitative proceedings detour into courtroom drama territory. The seriousness and reality of this interlude (barring its powdered wig-wearing Asians, the mere sight of which cracked me the Hell up) stand in contrast to the last act of the film, but we’ll get to that in a sentence or four. Our killer is ultimately released on the grounds that his victim was mentally handicapped, and therefore couldn’t possibly have been giving an accurate account of what happened. Uh, ok. And get this, he’s even allowed to return to the scene of his crimes, where he nearly rapes Ming Ming for a second time.

Then, the action kicks up in the film’s final stages and Red to Kill’s tone shifts again, this time to a much more exaggerated, outrageous one, with an over-the-top finale that feels as if it were spliced in from a separate movie, or a Combat Zone Wrestling event — a finale that sees our killer shave his head, sport an amateur wrestling singlet and terrorize our heroes in the workroom of their shelter with a sledgehammer and his penis. I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s bloodied by an iron, stabbed with jagged light tubes, gouged in the eye with a flower stem, and just keeps on coming. Toward the end of this sequence, he lifts Ming Ming in a fireman’s carry, gives her an airplane spin, then F-5s her (those are all wrestling moves), naked, through an office window. It’s absolutely insane. A good deal of this insanity can be attributed to the actor behind said killer, Ben Ng. Dude went all in. I mean, all in. I wouldn’t even light matches around this guy. If fire ignited his manic, demented energy, the whole block would go up. As despicable as his character may be, you’ll be hard pressed not to applaud his five-star performance, and just how easily he transitions between these Jekyll and Hyde-type personas.

The Verdict
Like I said, this flick is a weird one. It’s devastating when lucid, and blood-spattered pandemonium at its most unhinged. Other reviewers have called it “beautiful” and “a masterpiece”. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s worth watching once if you’ve got a strong stomach. It’s currently on YouTube (above).

Recommendations
below is a brief list of some other Category III films:

Robotrix (1991)
Dr. Lamb (1992)
The Untold Story (1993)
Diary of a Serial Killer (1995)
Ebola Syndrome (1996)

Horny House of Horror Butt Rating: Two Butts
Butt Scale 2

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