Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Review: The Red Panther

The best thing about watching (and reviewing!) obscure Chinese movies from the Gweilo's perspective is that you are carried into a cinematic world that is entirely different from anything you've ever seen before.   The Red Panther, an obscure 1983 Hong Kong film from director Kong Lung, definitely fits this bill. 

The Gweilo's Movie Ratings for The Red Panther
The Chinese movie review continues below this info box!
Category Rating
WTF Meter 2.7 out of 5
MST3K-Ability 4.3 out of 5
OVERALL QUALITY 1.7 out of 5
Chinese Movie The Red Panther
Director Kong Lung
Actors James Yi, Margaret Lee, John Chang, Lawrence Cheng
Year 1983
Format Viewed Megastar VCD MS/VCD/234/HK What is a VCD?

From the opening scene of this Chinese movie, where characters eat bananas, inexplicably blow up inflatable pool toys, and seek “toilet pepper” while enjoying an “opera” performance that looks like it's taking place in a bus station, it is obvious that this film was not made with any kind of international or Western audience in mind.  Let's start with the film's genre:
A Typical Night at the Opera in The Red Panther

The Red Panther's film genre is ostensibly a police procedural, a suspense thriller kind of like CSI.  There's a bunch if grisly murders, and a police guy who needs to solve the crime.  I'll call him “police guy” because he's really, really hard to take seriously as a police detective.  He's essentially a scruffy looking bum, with a corny early-80s mustache.  He looks a lot like Cheech (of "Cheech and Chong" fame).  Or like Tony Orlando (of the musical catastrophe "Tony Orlando and Dawn").  Or like a dirty, homeless version of Mario:

Red Panther's Police Guy


Tony Orlando

Is The Red Panther's hero, the police guy, up for the role of serious crime solving?  Just look at him.  Of course he isn't!   He spends the whole film bumbling around complaining about his hemorrhoids (which the doctor tells him are extra bad and probably fatal), and trying to get it on with a nurse.  Apparently, in this film, hemorrhoids can be used as a seduction technique?  (Yeah, sorry about that, but it only gets worse. I'm warning you now.)  He doesn't ever really try to solve the crimes, even when his sexy police supervisor throws a tantrum and cries, threatening to keep crying until they are solved.

So The Red Panther is not really a suspense film or a police procedural, but rather, maybe, … a comedy?  I'm not really sure.  I can see how parts of this movie, if acted out properly and in a humorous way, might qualify for a kind of low-brow “comedy.”  You know, the kind of movie with a lot of toilet humor.  Jokes like “Is this blood-filled toilet the result of badly flushed murder evidence, or is it just an exploded giant hemorrhoid?”  Except a “joke” like that would never ever be funny.  Do you see my problem here?   

It's even more confusing because The Red Panther has all the trappings of a straight up horror film.  Murder victims are disemboweled and gruesomely cut apart (by a surgeon serial killer!) and there's plenty of low-budget gore.  It also reenacts famous horror movie scenes, like the iconic shower scene from Psycho.  Except in this version of the Psycho shower scene, it's Norman's actual mother with the knife attacking the young woman through the shower curtain.  And in this version there is no stabbing or death.  Instead, Norman's mother and the Janet Leigh character drop the knife and start insulting each other while the Norman character (here played by the police guy) bumbles around helplessly (like he's done the whole movie so far).   

Why does "Help" end with a question mark in Chinese?
Maybe she's just as confused about genre as we are!
The Police Guy grapples with Norman Bates' key psychological issue.

So.  Horror?  Honestly, I've got no idea. Like a lot of Hong Kong cinema of this time period, there is cannibalism, and that's usually a sign of horror.  But it's a kind of slapstick cannibalism here.  A bunch of human organs are stolen from a morgue, and when police guy shows up to investigate he gets hungry.  He buys some mysterious organ meat from a creepy looking food vendor, with predictable results.  Mmm, this is delicious mysterious organ meat, he thinks.  If only I could solve the mystery of the missing human organs!  If this was a Troma film, a scene like that would be played for laughs.  But in this movie, I honestly think it's supposed to be chilling.

But, when you get right down to it, this kind of ambiguity and weirdness is exactly why I love these movies so much.  Yes, it's a bad film.  But it's bad in a way that you've probably never seen before, and will never see again.  From the Gweilo's perspective, therefore, The Red Panther is recommended.

I'll leave you with one last, mind-bending scene.  The police guy is interviewing a taxi driver about the murders, just like you would see in a normal police procedural movie.  He's doing this in the taxi.  But then...

Bottom Line of this Chinese Movie Review:  Whatever was director Kong Lung thinking?

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