Alternative title(s): Dr. Lam; Doctor Lam
Directed by Danny Lee & Billy Tang
Produced by Danny Lee
Written by Law Kam-Fai
Music by Jonathan Wong
Starring Danny Lee (Inspector Li), Simon Yam (Lam Gor Yu), Kent Cheng (Fat Bing), Lau Siu-Ming (Lam's father), Parkman Wong (Buffalo/Bully Hung), Emily Kwan (Female officer), Perrie Lai (Lam's step-sister), Wong Siu-Ling (Leung Wing Yin), Wong Wing-Fong (Chan Sau Lan), Julie Lee (Leung Man Ling), Eric Kee (Eric)
A call from a Kowloon Kodak film-developing agency proves to be the horrific start to a mind-numbingly ghastly investigation overseen by Organised Crime & Triad Bureau star officer, Inspector Li. As Li casts his eye over the evidence, pornographic photography that may just contain hints to an unsolved murder, the weight of realisation that he could be dealing with a serial killer begin to consume him. Leads point to Kowloon taxi driver Lam Gor Yu who, upon being taken into custody, claims that the photographs are not his but those of an elusive triad member who goes by the name of 'Mr. Chan'. When Lam's claims prove nebulous at best, he is moved into police observation for further questioning. Li's team of officers, comprising Buffalo Hung, Fat Bing and the singularly named Eric, are unable to extract a statement from the mysterious Lam. Even Hung's brutally unorthodox methods are incapable of cracking the taxi driver's veneer. Once Lam's family is presented with photographic evidence of his sexual molestation of his niece, he finally cracks and the morbidly grotesque tale of sexual obsession, murder, and necrophilia begins to unfold.
Where Herman Yau's "The Untold Story" (1993) seems to hold the acclaim of being Hong Kong's most shocking slice of true-life crime case turned cinematic horror with international audiences, Danny Lee & Billy Tang's "Doctor Lam" is the one that kicked off the whole Category III true-crime thriller sub-genre, albeit in wildly outrageous fashion. Based on the 1982 case of Lam Gor Yu, the "Taxi Cab Killer", Lee & Tang's film drew its origins from ATV television series, "Hong Kong Criminal Archives", that presented dramatisations of famous criminal cases of the then Crown Colony. Although the real Lam was handed a mandatory death sentence on April 8th, 1983, his case has long been reviled and held close within Hong Kong's collective consciousness. It was not so much that Lam had committed the murder of five women (that he admitted to) that shocked the region, it was the highly publicised details of the case that brought home the real horrors that lurked on Hong Kong's city streets. Lam not only strangled his victims, he hid the bodies within his housing estate apartment, dissected and dismembered the corpses, but not before stripping his victims post-mortem, photographing the bodies in obscene pornographic poses, and in most cases had sex with the deceased. Per Western societies lurid fascination with the inner workings of murderers and serial killers (a phenomenon almost completely isolated to the 20th century thus far), it was only a matter of time before the exploits of Lam made their transition to the silver screen.
Danny Lee, best remembered in the West for his role as Inspector 'Eagle' Li opposite Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo's "The Killer" (1989), is probably the LAST person many would expect to bring such a sensational, and grisly, story to the screen. Lee, the oft stereotypical Hong Kong movie cop (having been passed over for enrolment in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force himself), had been a romantic lead-cum-heartthrob in the seventies, as well as a minor martial arts star for Shaw Brothers studios. In the eighties he had won critical acclaim for his gritty urban drama "The Law With Phases" (sic) (1984), a film that single-handedly revitalised his career, as well as won him the Best Actor Award at the 1984 Hong Kong Film Awards. It also saw him nominated in the Best Director category the same year. With his love of playing the die-hard Hong Kong copper, it seemed only inevitable that Lee and his production company, Magnum Films, would eventually turn their hand to bringing real-life criminal cases to the big screen for his home audiences. Lee succeeded admirably post-1988, where the Category III classification was introduced to accommodate more 'adult-oriented' filmmaking in the local marketplace, once he transgressed his role in front of the camera to that of the director's chair with his directorial debut, "Doctor Lam" (1992).
As an exercise in serial killer cinema, "Lam" pulls no punches in the treatment of its subject matter, an attitude that saw the film run foul of both Hong Kong AND international censors. The onscreen mutilation of a HK$15,000 prosthetic corpse cost Lee his most dramatic cut from the Hong Kong print (some elements of this sequence DO remain in the Cantonese version), however with overseas markets what remained was either released in heavily truncated forms, or banned outright. Perhaps the most 'controversial' aspect of "Lam's" screen-time is Lee & Tang's ever-so matter-of-fact presentation of the graphic details of the case, barely batting an eyelid as they trot out the horrors of the case for the viewer. "Lam's" closest Western relative is William Lustig's entirely fictional "Maniac" (1980), a film whose similarly grim tone won it its share of detractors and critics on original release. However, make no mistake, although hampered by the usual Chinese slapstick and a sometimes-cartoonish performance by Yam in the lead role, "Lam" is no small masterpiece of Oriental horror cinema. It holds a grotesque, obsessive, unrelenting atmosphere that is almost alien to Western cinema outside of works like David Fincher's "Se7en" (1995).
Tightly scripted by Law Kam Fai, who would go on to write the Lee produced "The Untold Story" the following year, "Lam" builds upon its premise, creating a work that's individual setpieces successively top those that precede them until it culminates in a climactic sequence so brutal in its honesty that it is unbelievably shocking by its inclusion. Yam's portrayal of Lam, recreating the role from his original performance on "HKCA", is what drives the piece on towards its coldly chilling finale. Yam runs the gamut of introverted loner through malevolently calm criminal to psychosis-driven madman with such conviction you'd swear that he was born to play the role. But hey, in real-life Simon's a nice, happily married guy, who's famed for his charity work with disadvantaged children and his amateur photography & painting. However, for 89 minutes of your time, he's also one of the most realistically cold-blooded, bone-chilling serial killers to ever hit a cinema screen.
To alleviate the disturbingly unnerving incidences on-screen, Lee infuses the film with a healthy dose of prerequisite Hong Kong slapstick in the form of some comedy relief from Emily Kwan's (who I think's a cutie, but HK audiences HATE) easily spooked police woman and an alarmingly bad taste joke featuring Kent Cheng and a severed breast. Thankfully, these isolated moments of lowbrow comedy do little to diffuse the overall descent into total depravity that is the film's final reel. Tony Mau's cinematography is lush and polished, lending an almost rock-video stylistic to the numerous glossily filmed horror setpieces. Even imagery as disgusting as the extremely attractive Wong Wing Fong upside-down & unconscious, face marred by a river of milky vomit, are captured by Mau's lens with showy, glamorous fashion-shoot pizzazz. Additionally, Jonathan Wong's largely electronic score wanders the path from sleazy soft-porn sax to compliment the copious nudity, blowing out into thunderous drum-programming and keyboard riffs to heighten the intensity of Lam's onscreen debauchery. It's a compelling, often disturbing, wholly shocking, journey through the mind of a madman that retains its power to horrify just as much today as it did when it was first released. Fervently recommended as one of the harshest lessons in what Hong Kong cinema used to be able to achieve in the sub-genre, when the Asian shock machine was in full flight.
Winson's DVD release (at long last!) of Lee & Tang's cult shocker is a serviceable presentation of "Lam", but hardly the 'final word on the subject' that many might anticipate. Considered an 'older film' by Hong Kong's 'latest & greatest' consumer driven market, the film has been given a bare-bones film-only budget release by the somewhat smaller distributor, Winson Entertainment. The image is presented letterboxed at approximately 1.85 (albeit non-anamorphic), that opens up to a slightly more open frame of roughly 1.75 around the 40 minute mark (which seemingly indicates that a composite of print sources were used in this transfer). Colours are rich if not slightly oversaturated, but thankfully without any instances of bleeding. Mild film grain is apparent, but hardly completely distracting (it was there in the first place, so I'm not complaining!). What IS distracting is a) the HUGE scratch in the print at 32m01s, b) the authoring fault that produces a vertical line that shifts from right to left of screen from 71m26s to 71m32s, and c) the large vertical scratch on the print at the left-hand side of the screen that makes a regular appearance from 77m06s to approximately 79m10s. Apart from these glaring gaffs, the transfer actually looks a lot better than I had anticipated. It's nothing extraordinary, but it's good for what it is and should please most. Audio is available in Cantonese & Mandarin Dolby digital 2.0 surround and 5.1, but don't be fooled! It's simply rechannelled mono, and as a word of warning the 5.1 track is extremely loud and displays an unhealthy amount of distortion when there's a lot going on in the audio mix! English subtitles are actually exceptionally good, white with black borders, and largely free of error (there's a handful of grammatical & spelling mistakes). No extras I'm afraid, the film's all you get for HK$40!
As a tiny footnote, there was much widespread (and in a couple of instances, completely based upon hearsay and rumours) conjecture as to the 'completeness' of Winson's version of the film. Although Lee claims there was 3 to 4 minutes removed from the final theatrical cut of his film by the HK censorship board for a Category III classification, direct comparison with the uncut Spanish dubbed VHS once available from Manga (Spain) by 'spannick01' of the Asian DVD Guide board proved the actual figure to run more closely to a staggering 15 seconds! What of Winson's budget disc? Well, it's 'sort of' the Hong Kong theatrical cut, and sort of not. As mentioned previously, this appears to be constructed of composite prints (refer to the shifting aspect ratio) and at least one or two sequences are noticeably different from the theatrical print (*SPOILER ALERT*: the buzz-saw scene runs longer by a couple of shots, restoring a ludicrous amount of spouting gore; the breast-cutting scene reinstates an overhead shot of the corpse, as well as a shot or two of the mutilated breast). Unbelievers & train-spotters will try and convince you otherwise, but trust me, Winson's disc is actually slightly MORE complete than ANY prior version of the film that I've seen to date.
Review by Mike Thomason
|Released by Winson Entertainment Ltd|
|DVD format: DVD-5 (NTSC Region 0)|
|Running time - 89m (packaging lists 90m)|
|Ratio - Widescreen 1.85|
|Audio - Cantonese & Mandarin Dolby digital 5.1 & 2.0 (optional Traditional & Simplified; English subtitles)|
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