Wicked City (1992)

Directed by
Insanely ambitious, even by Tsui Hark standards
Reviewed by Simon on 2002-02-25

Effectively adapting a manga to a movie is never an easy task, particularly with something as off the wall as Wicked City. In 1992 Tsui Hark must have been feeling pretty unstoppable though, and indeed if there was anybody out there who had a chance, it was he.

Wicked City was one of the first HK DVDs I ever bought - with Tsui Hark writing and producing the HK version of one of my favoured animes, I had high hopes indeed. Sadly, these hopes were far from met, and I was most disappointed on first viewing. Disappointed enough that it's taken me quite a few years to get round to watching it again.

This time around, my impressions are actually much more favourable. It's one of those movies where you have to be willing to forgive what doesn't work, in order to appreciate what does (and what it tries to do).

The attempt at creating a sci-fi world where powerful demons are at war with the human race is definitely quite a unique effort in the Hong Kong movie world. Spider-women with tentacles, a motorbike-monster, liquid monsters, numerous flying monsters (and humans), psychic attacks and an aeroplane joust are just some of the things that they managed to squeeze into the movie. The special effects are obviously quite dated now, but for 1992 (and particularly in Hong Kong) they were really very impressive. There's some reasonable CG in places, lots of latex and rubber, and plenty of wirework and camera tricks employed in attempt to make a world as fantastical as in the Japanese manga/anime. Some really creative efforts, if you forgive the low-tech execution.

Cinematography throughout is pretty cool - with Andrew Lau behind the camera and Tsui Hark on set, you get some very unusual angles and motions, and pretty much the whole movie seems to be shot through blue filters for that cyber-feel. The movie is quite bleak in tone, heavily melodramatic and quite cynical. There's a message in there somewhere I'm sure, and the monsters are probably a metaphor for our human failings or something.

The cast for the movie is quite impressive. Leon Lai is barely recognisable as one of the monster hunters, and Jackie Cheung is good as the other. In addition we get to see Yuen Wo-Ping in quite a substantial role as the head of the anti-monster squad, and Roy Cheung as the leader of the bad monsters. Babe factor is high, with Michelle Reis spending a large amount of the movie tantalisingly naked (but always naked just off camera, or from behind etc), and Carman Lee in a dress that appears to have been painted on. Yum!

It's not a flawless movie of course. The script is weak on characterisation and plot development, and includes some awful one-liners. It's also a little heavy on melodrama - something that's reinforced (negatively) by a particularly annoying soundtrack. Special effects score much more highly on good intentions than convincingness, but even Hollywood hadn't really managed convincing effects by 1992. This could be enough to turn people severely off the movie - it's not one you'd use to try and convince an unbeliever of the virtues of Hong Kong Cinema.

For it's intentions and ambitions alone it's got to be given credit though. And no movie with Michelle Reis and Carman Lee can be all bad :D