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Film Review: We’re Going to Eat You (1980) by Tsui Hark

A kung-fu/cannibal movie that really tickles the funny bone

When the topic of cannibal films comes up in genre discussions, the likes of Ruggero Deodato's seminal “Cannibal Holocaust” or Trey Parker's “Cannibal: The Musical” are the first choices to come to mind. The outright brutality mixed with the pointed social commentary on the nature of mankind in “Holocaust” or the sheer over-the-top hilarity in dealing with such a dark subject matter of “Musical” is what keeps them in the forefront of the genre regardless of their preference for either the exploitation or entertainment side of the genre. Early into his career, the legendary combined these two elements and created this masterpiece genre effort mixing graphic carnage with comedy and cannibals.

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After making his way to a strange island, Agent 999 () looks into reports that a criminal known as Rolodex () is hiding out there. Dealing with the quirky villagers led by a controlling leader known as Chief () goes nowhere, but when he meets Lin (Chueng Mo-lin) who's entirely untrustworthy in the village but offers him a lead, he stays around to continue his investigations. Eventually, Agent 999 comes to find out that Chief and the rest of the villagers are crazed cannibals looking to kill and devour anyone they come across which forces him to put his search for Rolodex on hold to look out for himself in order to escape the island.

Overall, “We're Going to Eat You” features quite a lot to like. Among the most enjoyable aspects present is the deranged atmosphere Hark creates that allows for the various elements to exist together rather easily. As this combines slapstick comedy, martial arts, and brutal horror film within the same space with an island full of murderous cannibals who attack and kill without discretion but are treated with a sense of mockery at times, that produces genuine laughs. The idea of this takes place within the confines of an investigation into a criminal hiding out on the island and the search to find him getting interrupted by the cannibals, bringing about the threat of capture and butchery. This carries over into the finale where it constantly features Agent 999 about to be killed and eaten by the villagers to prevent his escape, which has a lot to like about it.

Still, the main thing here is the mixing of martial arts and comedy. The overall presentation of this one is a martial arts film, with all sorts of confrontations that are impressively choreographed by Corey Yuen and visually exciting, focusing on crowd attacks for the most part with multiple thugs ganging up on a victim only to have to fight off the gang. There's a lot to like with the ability to incorporate hand-to-hand striking, knife-play, and other weaponry in these battles to enhance the action, and to do this in conjunction with the typical Hong Kong flair for comedy in their battles is a real treat to watch. With scenes involving inadvertent strikes on friends rather than foes, clanging into objects around them in the field of battle, or using an unexpected boost to escape a confrontation, the comedy manages to be quite hilarious while mixed together with the action. That it still remains serious enough that there's a legitimate concern for Agent 999 in the fights when he's on the losing side is a real testament to the quality of Hark's work.

While there isn't much in “We're Going to Eat You” to dislike, there are a few issues. The main problem is that there's an unnecessary and wholly unfunny bit involving a transvestite character that interferes in the action for no reason. The whole scene is presented as a comic chase around their apartment as she tries to put amorous advances on an unconsenting Agent 999 that goes on way too long. As well, it presents some horribly outdated and at times outright offensive stereotypes that have no place in today's society. As a result, this sequence stops the film cold and feels highly problematic. Furthermore, the film's wildly changing tone can be an issue, as it wildly switches between campy comedy, martial arts spectacular, and tense horror film. This happens oftentimes within the same sequence and can feel highly disjointing and distracting rather than if it had stuck to one or two storylines instead. However, this isn't that bad and doesn't hold this one down that much.

Packed with a great combination of martial arts action, slapstick comedy, and gruesome gore that holds everything together against present but insignificant flaws, “We're Going to Eat You” remains one of the better entries in the genre. Viewers looking for wild, over-the-top Asian cinema, fans of the creative crew, or curious about the combination here are well-advised to look into this.

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