I wonder whether some functionary in the international empire formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken signed off on the use of their premises – not to mention the sacred image of the Colonel – in this Vietnamese gross guignol exercise. If not, it’s probably for the best that director-writer Lê Bình Giang’s film is liable to fly under the radar internationally – it’s played a couple of genre festivals (I saw it at MotelX in Lisbon) around the world but isn’t likely to get even the sort of distribution the early films of Jorg Buttgereit managed. At 68 minutes, at least it doesn’t outlast its welcome – but it takes a reel or so of oddly-fragmented narrative before the penny drops that this isn’t just a succession of unrelated vignettes of people being horrible to each other around Hanoi but a cut-up which presents the end, middle and beginning out of order to tell an intricate story of mad science, cannibalism and foreign fast food.
It opens with a fat guy talking about the secret joy of mixing Coke and Pepsi while abusing a barely-seen corpse, then has him ploughed under a van and gruesomely bludgeoned – we hear the wet blows as the screen is dark, a nastier effect (terrific sound design by Tilkerie Pham) than when we return to the scene later with more understanding and see the principles and the violence. Unpicking the plot, a guy and a girl (she works at KFC) knocked off their romantic moped ride by a Larry Cohen-like rogue ambulance driven by a scarred starey-eyed guy whose makeup looks like something from an Eddie Romero film c 1968 and staffed by a necrophile cannibal sadist medico who harvests the girl for coma sex and the guy for other purposes. Then, we meet a brother and sister team of child pickpockets who fall in with a fat kid who hangs out at KFC … their story skips ahead until they’re teenagers and teamed up with the guy from the moped accident who is now a vigilante avenger in headphones. Most of them have grievances against the cannibal crew, but unaccountably take years to wreak revenge, which then spirals out of control. Few have happy endings.
It seems for a while that the only innocent in the film is the fat kid, but it turns out that he grows up to be the appalling abuser from the first scene and his shy crush on the girl – he offers her a chicken leg – turns very nasty. Though the story is a jumble, the film has a certain logic as it progresses from a streetwise, relatively realistic view of slum life into a nightmare of deadpan comic savagery (not as amusing as it might be, alas) with heads in jars, multiple scarfaces, consumption of corpse parts, autopsy rape and a queasy, sickly, unclean sense of horrors in the striplit backroom (the buzzing lights are another nasty noise). The fetishising of US food and artefacts like Zippo lighters – both desirable status symbols and yet served as instruments of death (slow in the case of the fatty foods, fast in the case of the lighter dropped on a petrol-splashed victim) – suggests a distant echo of the Vietnam war, though in theme this might as well be recalling the ‘Nam myth horrors of Apocalisse domani as anything which happened in real life. It’s well-made and has effective moments, but extremely hard to warm up to – whereas comparable efforts like Eating Raoul, Delicatessen, K-Shop or even Cannibal Girls manage to carry off cannibalism and social comment with more tact and wit.