Hong Kong Butcher is based on the same series of real life murders by cab driver Lam Kor-Wan, most known via the notorious 1992 re-enactment Dr. Lamb, starring Simon Yam. Hunting for women in his cab, after strangling and acts of necrophilia followed mutilation, filming, photography and it all was done in the small apartment he shared with his family. All miraculously hidden up till the point when a photo development lab alerted the police of the gruesome photos they were asked to develop. Also showcased earlier in the TV-series Hong Kong Criminal Archives where Yam actually played the role as well, Hong Kong Butcher is a theatrical release covering the beats mentioned in pretty chilling fashion while employing a documentary approach to its direction almost. Working for and against the movie when catching the grit of the streets and indoor environments, some stretches of boredom occur in a distracting manner which makes you as an exploitation fan "grateful" the 1992 movie pushed the disturbing sights into more developed cinematic territory.
Excluding any involvement of the murders in his family's apartment during this take of Lam Kor-Wan, actually we do get some perplexing snippets in the opening of homeless people in and around Hong Kong. Quite puzzling what it actually is supposed to mean other than to setup the city isn't sunshine and fluffy clouds, it's a tangent never ventured into again. Choosing wisely so to show Lam supposed first murder soon thereafter, what is done CORRECT here is showcasing the ability to back off in order to achieve fine effect. Sure, Hong Kong Butcher doesn't come with much of a gore budget, the sequence showing the mutilation is quite short, our actor obscure the gory moment in a designed way and within a disgusting little apartment, we do feel the chills of the murderous act that will be added upon by the psychopath at hand here.
In classic, clichéd fashion (clichés are true often, remember that) we get the insight into Lam about his inability to be truly comfortable with women. Often involving prostitutes he's paid for anyway, there's a pretty full on reveal about his impotency so hence hatred and frustration is created. All well and fine and for the most part downplayed but when taking us around mostly run down love motels and the world of prostitutes, the film stops dead in its tracks for large stretches when it essentially becomes a daily video diary where not much happens. The Hong Kong street vibe can be captured in chilling fashion due to its grit and sense of realism. Grit becomes the movie's enemy for a while here.
Essentially when adding up the elements that work, like in an action movie aiming to deliver on the core element, Hong Kong Butcher does deliver on its exploitation intentions. The hour mark intensifies the frequency of the murders and we get a sense of familiarity and connection to the scenarios such portrayed in Dr. Lamb as well such as a chase of a girl and a drunk one taking the hellish cab ride (there's some eerie shots feeling like the cab is descending into hell). The details are usually not glossed over, just dealt with more quickly such as the mutilation, necrophilia and Lam's giddy obsession with his work. Add to all of this an at times eerie ambient score for these the most effective sequences and you'll get images lingering in your mind.
Certainly no disservice is done to the material from a pure exploitation stand point but the puzzling possible social commentary at the top and failure at making the grit of the visual design stand out at all times makes Hong Kong Butcher only an occasional tour de force in disturbing imagery and look into a truly sick mind that thankfully made a grave error eventually.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson