Red to Kill

Reviewed by YTSL
 
When a rape, two murders and a suicide not only occur but are shown in quite a bit of detail within the first six minutes of a regular length Hong Kong film, it can't not be known that this brutal work with the often disarmingly sappy soundtrack is one which falls squarely in the realm of (ultra) violent Category III productions.  This fact having been established, the questions that come to this (re)viewer's mind are:  How far do things really go in this 1994 offering from the director infamously known as "Bloody" Billy Tang, and to what end(s) beyond the unabashedly commercial ones that caused its advertising tag line to trumpet that the movie represented people's "last chance to appreciate Lily Chung totally nude!"?
RED TO KILL has been bombastically described as:  "Exploitative, sick and tasteless" (by an internet movie reviewer named Harald Gruenberger); "wild at heart and guaranteed to offend" (by Stefan Hammond in his hyperbolic "Hollywood East"); plus "excessively grim, salacious, vile, offensive, and sleazy" (by Thomas Weisser in his often judgmentally dubious as well as factually inaccurate "Asian Cult Cinema").  While I might not agree with every extreme epithet that has been hurled at it, I can definitely see what provoked them.  After all, the film in question is a seemingly "bare all" work whose standout stomach-churning scene -- among the many others of unconsenting sex, nudity, violence, gore and veritable insanity -- is that in which...an entirely naked fully-formed female (innocent-faced Lily Chung portrays a woman with the mental capacity of a child) proceeds -- by way of a sharp instrument, and for what felt like an excruciating eternity (but really was "only" for three minutes or so of screen time) -- to try to get rid of that part of herself that a rape victim would feel a need to cleanse.
I would be lying if I were to maintain that even recalling and writing about the above did not cause me to feel somewhat physically queasy and emotionally drained.  Nevertheless, the sense remains for me that RED TO KILL is less of a casual exercise in perverted titillation than an unrepentant attempt to shock people into thinking about socially embarrassing matters and individuals whose existence many would like to conveniently but insensitively consign to proverbial cupboards rather than place squarely amidst already stressed dwellers of high density low cost housing estates.
More specifically, the victims in RED TO KILL are those who exist on the fringe of society, able to be looked down upon by even those on Hong Kong's lower economic rungs and liable to be seen as getting but their just desserts when misfortune befalls them.  Yet not only are they depicted as blameless for the crimes committed against them but their innocence is hammered home by the presence of such innocuous items as a small doll, soccer balls and ballet shoes when and where violations of human bodies occur.  Similarly, there surely is some artful logic to the madness of the movie's two heroines being shown resorting to utilizing downright archetypal symbols of domesticity and femininity (e.g., an iron, artificial flowers) against their overwhelmingly physically powerful aggressor.
Then there is the presentation of the obvious villain of the piece as someone who may have had good intentions -- as can be witnessed by his choice of caring profession -- but had not managed to completely escape from the demons that emanate from the kind of childhood experience guaranteed to leave most people psychologically disturbed.  Thus, even when and after we -- who get placed in the role of witnesses as well as voyeurs -- are made privy to the unforgettable production's most upsetting images and characters' most demented incarnations, the chief unsettling thought on our collective minds might well be:  "There but for the grace of God go I...".  This not least since Lily Chung, Money Lo and (even) Ben Ng were able to infuse the characters they portray -- in what could be categorized as a rape revenge drama as well as extreme horror -- with the requisite humanity to make one care about, and therefore be all the more appalled by, what lunacy happens to and is enacted by them in RED TO KILL.

My rating for the film:  7.