Thursday, October 6, 2011

Horrorthon 3: Day Six: Ebola Syndrome (Herman Yau, 1996) -- B+

Ebola Syndrome functions best as a revolting satire of epidemic-related paranoia, specifically referring to American films of this type (director Herman Yau apparently decided to make the film after seeing Outbreak). However, by relegating the epidemic text to the background (the virus is only an ancillary component) and placing deranged serial killer Kai (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) in the fore, Yau synthesizes anxieties to produce an hilarious, hardly frightening, but often grotesque examination of cultural fears, both of the micro and macroscopic variety.

Beginning in Hong Kong, Kai is a delinquent pervert - his attempted rape of his boss's wife leads to a threat of castration, Kai pleading on his knees for mercy: "I have such a small dick. It's already so small. Don't castrate me, boss." Male insufficiency becomes a bizarrely recurring theme; after fleeing HK for a subsequent murder, Kai settles in Johannesburg, working in a restaurant where he "asks so little salary and does everything." Trying to warm up to the owner, he assures him he must "have a big dick" since he hears his wife moaning loudly every night. The owner agrees.

Bodily fears play out in ways both legitimate and satirical. Kai's genitalia fascinations are meant humorously, not to be refracted through a psychological diagnosis - the Western approach to psychopathology. In fact, much of the sequences seem oddly disproportionate and incongruous, in that the entire narrative mode is often difficult to decipher, since the abject excess of blood, mutilation, and sexist/racist ("The negroes are so dark, you never know if they have expressions on their faces") discourse seems to warrant a film of "higher" aspirations, not tinged with crudities and anchored by a character so overtly perverse as Kai. Nevertheless, in choosing to play Kai's behavior for absurdist humor, Yau inherently improves upon and critiques bourgeois films that use such material to guise the voyeurism of a more "sophisticated" audience. There's no pretense here: just abjection, untamed by the absence of a supportive, "intellectual" narrative.

After contracting the Ebola virus by raping an African woman, spreading it throughout Johannesburg by preparing Ebola-infected meat patties termed "African Buns," then returning to Hong Kong following another murder warrant placed on his head, Ebola Syndrome confirms itself as grindhouse oddity, littered with meta-textual elements and stripped of "art house" presumptions. When Kai proclaims "It's God who invented the Ebola virus, not me!" then runs through the streets repeatedly shouting "EBOL-YAI-AHHHH," there's a curious undercurrent of triviality and significance, contradictory in its obvious inanity, but relevant in its subsumed refutation of Western culture's dominant mores, cultural globalization seeping into Asian culture. If Ebola Syndrome is ultimately silly, amoral, and menial, well, that's pretty much the point.

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