Daughter Of Darkness (1993)

Directed by: Ivan Lai
Written by: Ivan Lai & Suen Ging On
Producer: Kimmy Shuen
Starring: Anthony Wong, Lily Chung, William Ho, Hugo Ng & Money Lo

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! We've got rape, we've got gore and we've got obnoxious misplaced comedy. Iiiiitt's Ivan Lai's Daughter Of Darkness, obviously rated Cat III if anyone was ever doubting. Have I got your attention now, readers? This version, if my understanding is correct, reinstates a fair amount of footage, previously unavailable on dvd, into the cut Hong Kong censors felt satisfied with. 2006 EDIT: In a confusing move, Universe now presses a dvd runs approximately 3 minutes shorter than the edit up for review. Gone is most of the reinstated footage of the first William Ho/Lily Chung rape and the final reel "Row Your Boat" torture scene is heavily truncated. The cover carries no differences so there's no way to tell at this point what version you're getting.

Captain Lui (Anthony Wong) finally gets a case in the small village where he's stationed. It's a crime involving the brutal slaughter of a family and with his new assistant (Money Lo from Red To Kill), they begin to untangle what led up to this grisly act of violence. Their investigations leads them to questioning Fong (Lily Chung, also in Red To Kill), the only surviving member of the dead family. She claims she has an alibi but when her boyfriend Kin (Hugo Ng from Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone") is arrested, suspected of the killing, Fong finally admits and sits down to reveal the true story...

In many respects, Daughter Of Darkness II is a straight remake of this first installment, even down to the execution of certain shots. This fact means that the reviews for the films will bear the same traits and quality wise, the films are pretty equal. Again, Ivan Lai has done a film for the male audiences primarily (with features such as softcore sex, silly comedy and gore) but I have to give him credit again for managing to inject a nice dark atmosphere into the piece where needed. The opening frames clearly showcases that with its stillness and the effective reveal of the prison cell. Cut to....Anthony Wong's cop character goofing around! As usual, mixing the dark and comedic elements doesn't really work but it was apparently a staple of Cat III cinema that didn't need fixing. Only Billy Tang's Run And Kill managed to be genuinely funny, in a very dark sense.

The fact that we have Anthony in a main role does help in the pacing department somewhat. He has fun and projects that with his energetic performance. It's all rather tasteless humour overall but at least there was 3 laughs on record in Daughter Of Darkness. Compare that to the sequel that only had one! I did like that Wong's character, while being very outrageous, seems to know what he's doing and has good instincts about solving crime. His methods may be unconventional at first glance, immoral even (he fondles a corpse to determine how long ago she died!), but in the end he has made several important steps forward in the investigation via his way. It has to be said though, despite Wong's starpower and sense of fun, the trip towards the real meat of the story is a long one. Dialogue is tiresome even with this simple plot and the funniest bits comes only physically from Wong. When talking, most of the time, he is as boring as anyone else on screen. Finally around the 40 minute mark, the push in on Lily Chung's face leads us into the flashback scenes of Daughter Of Darkness. The scenes telling the story we've been waiting quite impatiently for. The story with rapes, erotic scenes, melodrama and gore.

Here we can begin talking about actors performances and I think Ivan had a spot on instinct when casting Lily Chung. Oh no, she's not a particularly great actress and can't rival the fierceness of Cheng Yim Lai in the sequel but her sweet, innocent look really compliments the bullied character of Fong. A girl with dreams about to come true with the help of boyfriend Kin but shattered at the hands of the bullying family of hers, for a reason totally unfair. Unfair is the feeling the viewer will be left with after finishing Daughter Of Darkness also. Ivan gives Kin and Fong enough development and attention for us to feel for them. We're hoping for something better for her in particular but ultimately she's given very little of what she deserves. That 'little thing' is the comeuppance of her bullies. In a way, for me, the most disturbing scenes are those with verbal abuse of Fong by the mother (she nowhere near redeems herself when she objects to the rape of Fong by the father, played suitably over the top evil by William Ho), sister and brother even if the two rape scenes stand out more in actuality.

Herman Yau, director of The Untold Story, once talked about the inclusion of rape scenes in Cat III movies as a commercial aspect. Asian audiences apparently liked watching humiliating scenes like this and it's truly a sad comment to hear. That comment applies more to this era than it does nowadays however. If you're going to feature rape in this film, letting us watch Fong being degraded like this, there better be consequences for the man, in this case her father. Comeuppance was the word I used and while violence isn't the legal solution. Fong's been driven to that point where there's no other way than to punish hard. If the rape scenes excite you, that's your thing (General Kwan will deal with you...) but they aren't made as entertainment in my opinion, which the comment by Herman Yau sounded like.

By the time we reach the climax, the final 20 minutes or so, this genre piece finally reaches it's keeper status. Ivan delivers a decent finale in terms of gore (censor cuts still exists in this version) and because we do feel sympathy for Chung's character, it's rather sad to see her fate play out in the final frames. Ivan shows decent skill for lower key melodrama here and does end the story on a strong note. Comedy hasn't completely left the film and Anthony sneeks in a final good gag towards the end (falls asleep in the court room).

Why do we like these Category III rated flicks? Sick humour, sex and gore are commonly featured aspects and while rarely really good films, there is something unashamedly watchable about entries like Daughter Of Darkness. If you're curious about the genre, I always suggest starting with Dr.Lamb or The Untold Story before exploring any further. As a final note FOR fans, I personally give the edge to Daughter Of Darkness II because of the better finale and female lead.

The DVD:

The below info refers to the original Universe dvd version and not the shorter version now in circulation.

Previously available on an Ocean Shores dvd that came with a full screen version, burned in subs and heavy edits, this Universe disc represents an almost uncut version of the film. They even went the distance to piece the movie together from different sources, which shows in the final transfer. The 1.85.1 framed transfer looks decent in terms of colours and sharpness but the uncut footage is not colour timed with the rest of the film. It's also a few notches brighter. On the other hand, it's more easy to spot the reinstated footage and I applaud Universe for this even if the end result is uneven. Print damage is heavier in the bad quality sections but otherwise it's fairly clean throughout.

The differences in versions are detailed here (not spoiler free). Just scroll down to the notes section.

Universe also saw fit to omit the 5.1 remix (a good thing!), leaving us with the fairly powerful mono track. It does it's job more or less, dialogue is clear and Jonathan Wong's score comes off as atmospheric, even in mono. A Mandarin mono dub is also included.

The optional English subtitles has many spelling and grammar errors but for this movie, you have no problem piecing together the plot via a substandard subtitling job. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

No extras and that's a shame, always like to have the trailer at least.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson