This is one of those flicks that get labelled “controversial” and it is pretty darn easy to see why. Sure, we are a long way from Salo territory but Untold Story definitely disturbs. Far more than Audition which regularly gets mentioned in the same sentence as ‘gut-churning’.
All this needs some explaining though so here goes. Wong Chi Hang is a rather weedy, highly strung restaurateur in Macau. When police discover the sliced and diced limbs of a relative of the previous owner of Wong’s restaurant, they start to nose about Wong’s establishment and are soon highly suspicious. Now there is no mystery here — the film starts with a younger Wong going nutso on a gambling bud, we are given clear signals that he is more than slightly deranged and we soon see him murdering and dismembering one of his employees, eventually running the remains through a mincer and using the end result in his ‘pork’ buns.
So what drives this plot along and what really makes it so oddly disturbing? A good deal of the credit goes to Anthony Wong, whose performance is quite something. At first he seems a little comical but Wong uses that comical nerdishness in two very important ways. First to undermine his psychotic behaviour — when he does turn vicious it is all the more confronting for his quiet single mindedness. Then, in the second half of the film, that vaguely comic murderous persona of the first half is contrasted when Wong Chi Hang becomes a semi-tragic figure.
Yup — you read right. When Wong is finally arrested by the daftly clumsy police he is severely beaten by both the police and fellow inmates (one of whom is related to one of Wong’s murder victims). Deprived of sleep and in horrible pain he finally confesses. It is such a remarkable performance that, even when the insanely brutal flashbacks to his earlier killings occur, you can’t help but feel some measure of sympathy for his strange, off kilter dignity in his beaten condition. It is no wonder Wong won Best Actor for this role at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
As for those murder scenes, well, they are harrowing. The rape and murder of one female employee drags on and ends just terribly, while the murder of a family — including very young children — is just a wee bit too unsettling. Never particularly graphic, they are still bloody affairs and highly suggestive.
Oh, and the behaviour of the police throughout the first half of the film is just outright slapstick and silly. I mean they are played for laughs, only a step away from Police Academy. For me, that was one aspect of the film that really took this film out of a serious, if graphic, dramatic representation of a true incident, and into plain vanilla weird territory. I also suspect that such a treatment was deliberate, both as a criticism of police incompetence and corruption and as some kind of ploy to keep the viewer wrong footed between the film’s many schizophrenic moods.
All this is helped along by the washed out quality of the film. It is a film devoid of ‘style’ — you are not in John Woo hyper real territory here. It is grim, stark, lurid and over lit.
Untold Story, strange, daft and sometimes offensive as it is, stays with you.