Ebola Syndrome (1996)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

The 1990s were the golden era of the Category III film in Hong Kong. Category III was the HK equivalent to an X or NC-17 where absolutely no one under 18 could view the film in question and many were relegated to playing in porn theaters. While it would be unfair to label all films produced the region as being distasteful (Wong Kar-Wai’s brilliant Happy Together received a Cat III), it would also be remiss to ignore the power that exploitation films held at the HK box office during the category’s heyday. Many of these films were notorious back in the ‘90s for featuring lots of action, gratuitous nudity, sex, and over-the-top violence, including lots of rape. Anyone who paid to see one of these films back in the day would likely be disappointed if the movie they’d bought a ticket for didn’t deliver. Thus, the creators of these films often went to great lengths to push the boundaries with audiences. Following the commercial and critical success of the 1993 Cat III classic The Untold Story, star Anthony Wong Chau-Sang reunited three years later with writer/director Herman Yau to see if they could re-capture lightning in a bottle with Ebola Syndrome.

Beware: this film has a notorious reputation for a reason. True to its rating, the film features a lot of really depraved behavior on screen. Some of it is extremely offensive. There’s a shit ton of racism, too. It is not for the faint-hearted or easily triggered.

As in the notorious duo’s previous collaboration, Wong once again plays a depraved rapist vivisectionist who feels justified in his killing people because he doesn’t like to be “bullied,” i.e. asked to behave like a normal human being.

Released the year after the international hit film Outbreak (1995), the story remains perhaps even more relevant today in a world ravaged by Covid-19. The plot concerns a criminal named Kai (Wong) who goes on a killing spree, dispatching most of his boss’s family. He murders everyone except for their youngest daughter with whom Kai will cross paths later as an adult. He flees to South Africa for the next decade and becomes a cook in a Chinese restaurant owned by Shaw Bros. star Lo Meng. Everyone hates Kai. Justifiably so. He’s a real scumbag. 

One day while visiting a nearby village to buy cheap pork (no pun intended) he happens upon a very ill-looking African woman whom he unceremoniously rapes. Unbeknownst to Kai, the woman was dying from the Ebola virus. Unfortunately for everyone else in the film, Kai is one of the few people who become asymptomatic carriers. Turning him from a normal run-of-the-mill amoral psychopath into walking death.

Predictably, in a re-hash of The Untold Story, Kai kills his new employers after they criticize his work habits and he makes burgers out of their newly Ebola-infected flesh. Of course, the customers gobble them up, declaring them “delicious!” Believing the coast is clear back home, Kai returns to Hong Kong where, for the rest of the movie we get to see Anthony sneezing and spitting on people while maniacally shouting “Eeeebolaaa!” Not to mention spreading the deadly virus to a bunch of hookers via his semen and saliva. Right about now you’re probably thinking “But why would I want to see this?” There’s really only one reason. Because Anthony Wong is awesome. Yes, Kai is reprehensible. Hell, he’s downright vomit-inducing. But Wong plays him with such zeal that he makes one viewing worth it. Overall, the tone isn’t as horrific or nihilistic as, say, A Serbian Film. Far from it. It’s more like a very, very dark comedy. Eliciting the occasional awkward sanity-questioning chuckle is pretty impressive considering there’s so much nasty stuff going on. Fans of the Grand Guignol will likely enjoy this aspect. Will I be watching it again? No. The cinematically sane should probably tread lightly not only into this title but into the larger HK Category III library.

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