MEN BEHIND THE SUN 3: A NARROW ESCAPE

Directed by Godfrey Ho
Cast: Gong Chu & Te-Lo Mai

1994/94 mins/Color/Dolby Digital Mono
1.85:1/Japanese/Hong Kong/NTSC Region 0

Website: www.japan-shock.com/

Review of the Japan Shock DVD

Shot once again by Godfrey Ho, A NARROW ESCAPE is the least graphic of the three MEN BEHIND THE SUN movies and also the least memorable. August 1945 and the Japanese army is in retreat. The commander of Camp 731, General Saiholi, is instructed to destroy the camp and all traces of its existence. The remaining 'marutas' are massacred - shot and gassed and the camp burnt to the ground. The officers and soldiers from 731 board a train and have to retreat through Manchuria and Korea back to their homeland. There is danger every step of the way as the enemy forces draw ever closer and local civilians rally themselves to attack the Japanese army. One of the retreating troops, Ito, comes into contact with the plague virus and accidentally becomes infected. His comrades in the train carriage rally round him and keep his infection quiet. Ito's health rapidly deteriorates as he has nightmares about the experiments that took place at Camp 731. Obviously this is a cunning way for director Godfrey Ho to splice in footage from LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL and the highlights of that film are all here. The goriest moments from number two are replayed including footage from the autopsy, the open-heart surgery and 'marutas' being tortured and infected.

When a comrade on the train, Dr Leko, announces that Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Americans, the troops onboard become hysterical with several committing suicide. Director Ho also throws in a brief flashback scene in which Ito remembers the atrocities in Nanking when Chinese troops surrendered to the Japanese army and were massacred, with many buried alive and tens of thousands of innocent civilians also killed. The remaining troops on board the train become concerned that they'll get massacred by the Russians and prepare to die fighting. Instead, at each new station, they encounter thousands of civilians desperate to climb onboard the train to escape the Manchurian army. Ito's condition gradually worsens and the camp general orders that all the troops on the train be given vaccine injections. The remaining boxes containing samples of the plague virus are casually thrown from the train, with little regard for the innocent civilians from the neighbouring area. There are a number of shoot-outs with enemy troops as the train attempts to make its final destination.

Thankfully with this DVD Japan Shock have dispensed with the cheesy English dubbing, instead we have the choice of watching the film with its original language track and optional remastered English or Dutch subtitles. Sadly there's a slight delay with the subtitles appearing onscreen after the characters have spoken, which can be a bit distracting. Once again very little money has been spent enhancing the audio track or the picture quality. Japan Shock has transferred an old theatrical print to DVD with all that entails. So the colours are slightly washed out and faded, there's a significant amount of speckling, dots and dust. There's also some pixellation in a number of scenes - in fact it's not much better than an average quality videotape. However the movie is in the correct widescreen ratio and completely uncut and also includes as extras a trailer, a slideshow and 8 chapter stops.

Those who enjoyed (or had a morbid fascination with) the first two films will want to pick up the concluding part of the trilogy. T.F. Mous's original is still by far and away the most powerful and disturbing of the three films. If Godfrey Ho hadn't spliced in footage from number two then A NARROW ESCAPE would have been a straightforward drama with very little blood and guts. It's a competently directed exploitation film from Godfrey Ho and though far from perfect this Japan Shock release is, thus far, the only way to view the film on DVD.

Interestingly the Internet Movie Database lists this film as having been shot in 1994 two years after LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL. However, I have a strong feeling that Godfrey Ho shot the footage for both at the same time and then edited the footage into two different movies a practise he is renowned for. Many of his Hong Kong productions have been re-cut and re-released under numerous different titles.

As I stated in my review for Ho's LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL, T.F. Mous's BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE is often referred to as MEN BEHIND THE SUN 2. It also has been released as MEN BEHIND THE SUN 4 in certain Asian territories where Ho's films were released beforehand.

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

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