Directed by Godfrey Ho
Cast: Gong Chu, Yuen-Ching Leung & Wan Ying Ying

1992/91 mins/Color/Dolby Digital Mono
1.85:1/English/Hong Kong/NTSC Region 0


Review of the Japan Shock DVD

Godfrey Ho takes up the directorial reigns for this follow-up to T.F Mous's 1987 film MEN BEHIND THE SUN. More of a remake than a sequel, Ho's LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL is as nihilistic as its predecessor, but not as shocking. It is an exceptionally bleak tale of Camp 731 set up by the Japanese army during World War II in Manchuria. There they carried out medical experiments on innocent civilians from nearby towns to help further the cause of the Japanese Empire. By the end of World War II the Japanese army was losing ground on the battlefront and its experimentation camps were considered the last hope for their survival. All manner of sick and vile experiments took place at these camps to further the knowledge and development of biological and chemical weapons, which the Japanese army hoped to use to defeat their enemies.

The movie begins with surviving officers and soldiers from Camp 731 reuniting after the war has ended. All are struggling to make ends meet. One recounts the tale of a soldier from the camp, Handa and his love for a young woman, Iko. The film goes back in time to Handa being assigned to the camp. On arrival the soldiers there are told their work is classified, no contact is allowed with the outside world and success of Japan's war efforts lies with Camp 731. The victims of their experiments are hauled in from nearby villages and referred to as 'maruta' - logs for the fire. Some are injected with the bubonic plague virus and their deaths timed by stopwatch, whilst others have their arms frozen in liquid nitrogen and the skin is peeled off by the sadistic officers. One of the most sickening scenes in the film comes twenty minutes in as we witness an autopsy, which utilises the real corpse of a woman, in which her internal organs are removed and her arms and legs sawn off. This is a pretty gruesome scene, which would seem to have been incorporated by director Ho to see how far he can push the audience. The experiments continue with another man operated on whilst alive, his beating heart removed to the delight of the officers.

Director Ho includes a love story amongst all the brutality with the soldier, Handa, reprimanded for attempting to send a love letter to his girlfriend, Iko. She tries to find her lost love and eventually pretends to be a local villager so she can get in the camp and near Handa. Meanwhile the general in charge of the camp has thought up the bright idea of using ceramic bombs to spread the bubonic plague. Tests are carried out, only for one bomb to smash in the plane itself, with all the crew having to be executed. Handa discovers Iko in the camp and attempts to release her, leading to a rebellion against the general and his men.

Godfrey Ho is the ultimate master of the fast track, low-budget B movie. He likes to mix and match genres and LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL is no exception. Here we have an exploitation movie containing scenes of extreme violence merged with a love story and even a brief kung fu scene. The love story at the heart of the film comes across as somewhat contrived and a way of padding out the running time. Those of you with weak stomachs would be best advised to steer clear of LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL as there are several moments guaranteed to make you lose your lunch. For exploitation fans LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL is an efficient film from Godfrey Ho, although it's not an easy film to watch.

Japan Shock's European DVD release is completely uncut in 1.85:1 widescreen, but is dubbed in English with no option to watch the film with the original language track. It looks to have been taken from the same master used by Eastern Heroes Video a few years ago for their European video release. The picture is reasonable, although too bright in the outdoor scenes; there's some minor speckling, dust and grain. The dubbing is okay, but I would have preferred English subtitles, although the music used is appalling (with the constant use of a cheap drum machine). The extras - just one trailer for the film, ten chapter stops and a rather pointless animated slideshow.

As a side note director T.F Mous shot a follow-up to MEN BEHIND THE SUN in 1995 entitled BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE, which is also known as MEN BEHIND THE SUN 2 in certain territories. However, Godfrey Ho's LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL and A NARROW ESCAPE were shot prior to Mous's THE NANKING MASSACRE.





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Review by Brendan Maltman. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©

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