The diversity of Chinese culture is on display at the Charles this week, and boy, oh boy, does it cover the waterfront. The two films are "Ermo," by Zhou Xiaowen, and "Naked Killer," by Clarence Fok, and I doubt if two films could be farther apart.
"Naked Killer" is over the top even by Hong Kong gangster standards. A wild riff on the theme of lesbian killers, it sports all the bad taste, grotesque violence, shrill music, incoherent plotting and dervish-like pacing of the genre, only more and better. It makes "Basic Instinct," the original lesbian killer deal, look like "Mary Poppins."
To synopsize such an opus would take more effort than we put into redesigning the paper. Let's just say that in this film there are two Lesbian Killer teams, one good and one bad. In between is a baffled police inspector, played by Simon Yam, and he can't figure out what the heck is going on. Even the press notes don't bother to try; they merely state that the hero will be "struck head on by great hurricane of violence."
The movie loves to set up action set pieces too nutty to be believed but too kinetic to be denied. The senior lesbian killer, middle-aged Sister Cindy (Kelly Yao), doesn't just knock guys off with guns and knives but also has disk-shaped throwing blades wired to spools she flings out like Frisbees of death, while the soundtrack makes a noise like the ships from "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1954) blown through an atomic-powered Moog synthesizer.
Best scene for the hopelessly debauched, but don't tell your moms you heard this from me: After Princess and Baby do a guy in the pool, they make love in the water, which is burnished with his blood.
From another part of the forest -- and maybe another part of the solar system -- comes "Ermo," a comic parable about the corruptive powers of capitalism even in the far reaches of rural China. Ermo (Alia) is hard-working, and though her lot in life isn't great, she isn't the type to complain. By profession a twisty-noodles sales associate (she sits at the curbside, singing "Twisty Noodles!"), she's content with her sexless life (hubby has a bad back), her fat, happy son Tiger and her extensive wardrobe choices, which largely turn on the issue: Which sleeve of my one jacket should I put an arm into first?
Next door live the unhappy couple known as Blindman (eyes too close together) and his lovely wife Fat Woman (guess why?), who own a color TV. This makes Ermo nuts: She has to have a color TV, and the movie watches her increasing absorption into money-making schemes in order to get enough to get not only a color TV but the largest color TV.
The details of the agrarian lifestyle in modern China were bleak enough to make me treasure my hot water heater and screen door, but nevertheless Ermo's endless quest to accumulate enough money had some kind of heroic scale to it. When she starts giving blood twice a day, you're thinking, like, give her the TV! Let her watch "Dallas" re-runs all day long for crying out loud!
Of course, like an O. Henry short story, "Ermo" builds toward its ironic denouement that confirms the Oscar Wilde dictate, which the great man may well have copped from a fortune cookie: "Be careful what you wish for; you may get it."
Directed by Zhou Xiaowen
Starring Alia and Liu Peiqi
Released by Arrow Entertainment
Starring Simon Yam and Chingmy Yau
Directed by Clarence Fok
Released by Wong Jing Workshop
Unrated (extreme violence and sexual content)