Please Do Disturb: Dr. Lamb

THE KILLER’s Danny Lee stepped behind the camera to helm (along with co-director Hin Sin Tang) the 1992 serial killer melodrama DR. LAMB. Drawing its inspiration, as well as its namesake, from the mass murderer craze kick-started by THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, this Hong Kong Category III entry borrows little else from Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winner. And while it certainly takes a less mainstream approach it just doesn’t have quite enough oomph, dramatically or narratively, to carry its grislier elements.

When the police are alerted to a series of photographs taken of dead females, their investigation leads them to Lam Gor-Yu (Simon Yam), a young taxi driver–not a doctor, as intimated in the title. Stoically refusing to speak, even when repeatedly abused in police custody, he finally breaks his silence when he unwittingly betrays his family (turns out he was snapping inappropriate pics of his underage niece as well); Lam found himself on a divine quest to rid the world of “bad and filthy” women by killing and, later, dismembering them.

In addition to the Hannibal Lecter/Buffalo Bill vibe that Lam strives to give off, DR. LAMB also plays like a gorier version of TAXI DRIVER (note the multiple exterior shots of Lam’s rain-spattered cab and the soft jazz that accompanies them); in fact, it may have been Travis Bickle’s prediction that “someday a real rain will come and wash this scum off the streets” that inspires Lam to kill his victims during torrential downpours. Whatever his motivation, Lam’s mission plays like the exploitation genre’s cake-and-eat-it-too method of punishing sex with violence, a tactic we’ve seen, oh, seven thousand times. Worse, Lam’s reasons never ring true–they’re merely a hook to hang some pretty gruesome flashbacks on.

And about those flashbacks . . . they’re easily the highlight of the film (and judging from the stylish way Lee and Tang film them, it’s obvious they know it). Shot in a cramped, claustrophobic room, with ethereal blue light bleeding through slats in the windows, Lam performs his psychotic business with unabashed, unhinged glee as he takes a circular saw to his victims’ limbs. (I particularly liked how he felt the need to tape over the girls’ eyes, a touch that turns his victims into slabs of meat, while hinting at Lam’s remaining humanity.) Though never explicit–we never see the blade slicing flesh–they’re queasily effective nonetheless, as Lam basks in the resulting showers of blood, as red chunks suspend in the water of a nearby fish tank.

The trouble is, we have to wade through a pretty slow first act to get to them, as the casual brutality of the police department (whether or not a statement is being made is unclear, as it’s presented as a normal part of police procedure with zero consequence) and harping, overbearing nature of Lam’s family (which contributed, if would seem, to Lam’s condition). The flashbacks do little to dispel the film’s overall leaden pace, conceding screen time to the cops’ frequent chest-beating and internal politics as well as some nauseous black humor that never meshes with LAMB’S downbeat realism. (There’s a very good reason SILENCE never featured a scene in which Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn juggled a pickled breast.) Nor does the movie’s garbled translation–I’m guessing English is not the first language of the person who transcribed the film’s subtitles–help navigate the torpid story.

DR. LAMB switches gears to segue into its final act, echoing William Lustig’s MANIAC as Lam stalks and eventually kills a “pure and innocent” girl in a jarring, but not entirely out of place, change in motivation. The murder’s aftermath, shown as the last flashback of the film, is an unsettling depiction of loving commitment (and necrophilia) that almost–but not quite–makes up for the time it takes to get there.

A slick bit of griminess that tries to outdo a killer who wears a suit of flayed female skin, DR. LAMB might’ve been more effective if it hadn’t soften its blows in the pretenses of true-crime docudrama. Much like the similarly-themed THE UNTOLD STORY (1993), it still possesses plenty of teeth when the time’s right. Though I would’ve preferred something a little harder-edged, I honestly don’t know if I’d want to spend a whole ninety minutes in that small blue-lit room.

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