From the glorious year of Category III hitting its fever pitch, i.e. 1993, that gave us The Untold Story among other things, The Unpublicizable File has been called "one of the worst" and "a cobbled together mess" and the latter quote is to be taken to heart. This riff on Herman Yau's award winning film (Best Actor Hong Kong Film Award to Anthony Wong) is clearly not aiming to be mentioned come awards time nor aiming for anything else than a cash in on said story and trend. Having said that, the filmmakers also echo a schizophrenia present in Hong Kong cinema and essentially give us three basic and lazy films in one, causing no boredom and a bit of admiration in the process.
Jumping back and forth between the following plot strands, Liang (Yue Gam-Bo) works at a restaurant, struggles with gambling habits and in general is being looked down at. Crossing the line by actually murdering one oppressor, he quickly disposes of the parts into the meat supply in the restaurant. Bunman 2. He's seen giving an elixir to vicious triad boss Kao to cure his impotency but within the low-rent whorehouse, Kao and gang are losing control. All while the police (headed by otherwise Cat III villain William Ho) try and seek out solutions for both the murder cases at hand here...
An ironic English title possibly to some, The Unpublicizable File isn't the worst offender on the block as it doesn't bore and director Ma Siu-Wai presents fair skill in atmosphere during the "Bunman" segments. As for being cobbled together, the various strands aren't cases of entirely separate shoots as the characters do cross paths... if only mildly. So with that out of the way, clearly problems are plenty in the film, it turns downright weird and incoherent at times but a boring time is not what is published here.
Liang is the classic underdog who's pushed too far but isn't to be sympathized with. Especially not since what he's doing is pretty reprehensible considering he's also brought in by the boss of the restaurant (Hu Hsiang-Ping) who's doing what's right after actually injuring Liang once upon a time. We're not talking high drama here but a minor thoughtful minute sold well by a veteran like Hu Hsiang-Ping. The Untold Story had an effects budget consisting of more than just blood squirted at actors, The Unpublicizable File does not have more than the latter but it's somewhat admirable and atmosphere, grit, rough- and rawness still comes through during these segments. As for the separate, quite graphic triad section (mostly taking place at a brothel with stoned prostitutes), it's pronounced in the vein of the Category III rating but visually a flatness sets in that bores. Kao goes to town with his sadism where bondage and whipping and killing rears its head but intercutting low-rent, inserted after the fact (but with actors from the main shoot) sex scenes doesn't do The Unpublicizable File the favours the low budget origins of the 'Bunman' parts do.
But when all is said and done, The Unpublicizable File tries to please more than just the gorehounds and coming from a fan perspective where budget doesn't matter, and coming at it with a fascination with how Category III ruled Hong Kong cinema ion the early 90s... you'll clearly see The Unpublicizable File doesn't deserve a slap in the face as such. Consider it publicizable.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson