It’s A Sad,
aka Ku Bei
Directed by Rob Jabbaz
Machi Xcelsior Studios
Let me say upfront that, The Sadness was filmed using both crypto currency (I still don’t understand that stuff) and the proceeds from the producer’s cam girl business. So, yeah, kinda old school alternate funding methods which might suggest a grittier, grainier product but, I have to say the whole film in terms of the shooting of it looks pretty spectacular and clean (the kind of clean I’d associate with someone like Hal Hartley or Wes Anderson). Even the hand held shaky cam moments in this look positively polished in regards to not pulling the audience out of the movie due to any overt stylistic expressions... at least as far as camera movement goes, at any rate.
However, in terms of the content of those frames, clean is not a word I would readily jump to when describing The Sadness. Once past the basic set up, it’s possibly one of the all time goriest films which I’ve seen in a long time... right up there with movies like, for example, Ichi The Killer... which was even cut on it’s Cat 3 video release... I know because I’d seen it uncut at its only unaltered UK screening at the London Film Festival and had to track down a Dutch DVD of it in the end, to get the full thing. Apparently, the same fate has been meted out to the physical home video release of The Sadness in its own country, where it’s not been released uncut... only at cinemas.
The set up tells of a country who have had their fill of lock downs since the coming of the Coronavirus and so, when a health official is trying to warn the public about a new virus... the Alvin virus... people don’t believe him. It’s all a part of the slow background build as we meet loving young couple Kat (Regina Lei) and Jim (Berant Zhu). They wake up and get into a slight disagreement about holiday plans... then Jim gets on his motor scooter and drops her at the station to go to work. And, as soon as they part ways, the Alvin virus hits and makes itself known in no uncertain terms, as the illness blackens the eyeballs of every infected victim, gives them a disturbing rictus grin and turns them into violent, crazed psychopaths wanting to violently kill, torture and rape anybody and everybody around them, indiscriminately... the act of which also infects the victims (if they’re not already infected) and it very quickly decimates the city... indeed, the country.
So, yeah, an obvious nod to George A. Romero’s The Crazies with the sexual undertone to the killings being an obvious ‘difference’ to maybe differentiate somewhat from both the Romero film and it’s subsequent remake (I’ve not seen the remake but the original Romero is not one I really took to when I first saw it). This one, once the craziness hits, is quite intense and almost continuous gory carnage with the director doing two things to not overload the audience too much and therefore let things get dull.
Firstly, he picks out a few ‘character’ victims and antagonists to repeatedly come back to... giving the audience someone to identify with or be scared of. Secondly, it’s obviously a story that’s mainly focused on Kat and Jim and how they are somehow going to find each other to come together again over the length of the movie (with a fairly predictable outcome, it has to be said)... so he gives both protagonists moments of calm amid the carnage where they are just wandering or existing at the periphery of the events, before taking them back into each new gory set piece.
And what set pieces. It’s fast and ferocious and, honestly, feels very dangerous. There’s an occular destruction moment on board a brilliantly executed blood bath on a tube train carriage that Kat is riding, initially oblivious that there is any virus in the air, that I totally didn’t see coming due to the way it’s shot and edited... where a recurring, creepy old businessman puts his umbrella through a woman’s eyeball. It’s pretty grim and surprising stuff and, very early on, the director uses the trick of showing that one of the main protagonists is not safe from injury so, yeah, the atmosphere is thick with suspense.
That being said, one of the sequences (which reminded me of a scene that maybe inspired it, in the The Big Nowhere, the unfilmed second novel of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet) where the same creepy guy catches up with the same victim in a hospital and proceeds to vent his virus inspired sexual urges through repeatedly penetrating her eyeball socket with his penis, is kept curiously out of shot. Which seems strange at this point when the audience has already been exposed to a catalogue of fairly imaginative and grotesque violence... although saying that, the way it’s not shown in this sequence means you almost feel it more, as your imagination starts to fill in the gaps.
Another thing the director does, which is quite nice, is to give the same antagonist a moment where, for all intents and purposes, he breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience as he approaches the camera, axe slung over his shoulder. As it turns out, he’s really talking towards where he assumes the general direction of the fleeing Kat is but, it’s obviously a deliberate moment where the director wants to pop the audience from possible passive disengagement from the violent assault into another level within the frames, so to speak. The director also has a few other tricks up his sleeve such as using a shower curtain to both hide a very grim moment while doubling as an aid to Kat hiding her next move from a potential threat... I could go on about certain aspects of this film in relation to this kind of story telling cunning but, the review would have keep going for a while.
And, of course, the film is fully conscious of the satirical slant of the way in which the authorities are handling (or rather, not surviving) the outbreak, in light of the coronavirus pandemic within which the film was shot (the station and hospital you see in the movie had to be constructed within a studio set, apparently, due to not being able to film in these kinds of locations during the recent outbreak). Absolutely nobody believes anything the doctors are saying about the virus before it hits and everybody in the film seems aware that each new virus outbreak will now be a ‘politicised event’ and utilised by an untrustworthy government who don’t want to instigate another lock down in an election year. Which is, I suspect, pretty much where we are now with things in the UK, even as we are assaulted by a fifth wave which nobody in power wants to acknowledge, while millions are infected (including me, due to our own slack and nefarious government).
And that’s me about done on The Sadness. If you are a fan of zombie movies (which this really isn’t an example of at all, although there is some common DNA in presentation) or viral people turning into rage fuelled aggressors (such as The Crazies or Mom And Dad, reviewed here) then you are probably going to really like this movie. I’m not sure I can say I’m totally sold on the repeat value of this one but, it was kinda fun and it’s technically well put together, especially considering there’s apparently hardly any CGI in the movie and it’s mostly done as practical effects work... outstanding. And not really a horror film either... more science fiction but, I suspect it would play well with a horror crowd, for sure. Worth a look.