There is a sequence about a third of the way into this film where the main character is menaced by a cheetah. It’s a testament to the depravity that proceeded it that our main surprise is that the guy didn’t try to fuck it. Ebola Syndrome is that type of film. Its also utter, utter genius. Baldly put, this is the story of an outbreak of the deadly virus (at the time of writing, Ebola is in the news again, funnily enough). The cinema’s normal attitude to a viral outbreak is either that of Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak, where Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo save the day, or that of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, where things rapidly go tits up and end up all post-apocalyptic. Hong Kong cinema’s version is that an escaped murderer rapes an Ebola-stricken Zulu and merrily spreads the virus through human hamburgers, spitting blood at cops or having unprotected sex with prostitutes.
Of course, it has to be Anthony Wong who stars as on of the screen’s most unredeemable bastards. He’s introduced in a scene of unimaginable brutality – caught having sex with his boss’ wife, he is badly beaten before turning the tables and savagely killing three people without batting an eyelid. On the lam in Johannesburg, he’s soon up to his old tricks. Working in a Chinese restaurant, Wong and his boss are sick of being ripped off by racist white butchers and do what any small businessmen would do, nip off to the nearest Zulu village to buy a few pigs. Unfortunately, the village is in the grip of an Ebola epidemic. Undeterred, they buy the pigs and fuck off sharpish. On the way, Wong happens upon the dying Zulu, and the rest is history.
The remaining hour or so consists of Wong (who is immune to the virus – a ‘one in ten million chance’ a helpful doctor explains) spreading the sickness first through South Africa and then on to Hong Kong. To say the film is entertaining is a complete understatement. Nothing is taboo. Children are killed, innocents sprayed with infected body fluids, frogs are chopped up (for real, in a particularly difficult scene which Wong reportedly refused to film), pieces of meat are masturbated into, tables are rammed down onto women’s necks, faces are peeled off by pathologists, elephants force pick-up trucks off the road and, worse of all, Wong slovenly parks his truck across TWO spaces on a car park. Wong, of course, is fantastic as the murdering swine – the opening scene where he switches from a grovelling sap to a savage killer is breathtaking. The explosion is as savage as the one Choi Min-sik has during the taxi ride in Kim Jee-woon’s disappointing I Saw the Devil, but Wong‘s is completely unexpected, and all the more powerful.
There are other actors in this film, but really it’s Wong‘s show. I can’t think of anybody else who could personify such a depraved bastard like he does. Again, Choi Min-sik comes close, but not close enough. One of the (many) things which surprised me in the film was Wong‘s disguise as he flees South Africa. A ponytail, hat and glasses make him totally unrecognisable. Ebola Syndrome shares many themes with Billy Tang’s notorious Dr. Lamb and a previous Lau/Wong collaboration The Untold Story. Both contain their fair share of eye-catching moments, but neither top the sight of a crazed Wong being set on fire and running about the streets of Hong Kong while Yorkshire Terriers eat random infected body parts of the floor. Not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure, but for an introduction to the dubious delights of extreme Asian cinema, you won’t get better than this.