This review could’ve opened two ways. A warning to those who hype shit up beyond reason and end up disappointed, or reveling in the fact that my unrealistic levels of excitement were justified. This is about a kung fu space cat fighting an interstellar blob and it was directed by the dude who did Riki-Oh; how do you THINK this is gonna go down?
original title: 衛斯理之老貓 (Lao mao)
aka: The Thousand Years Cat
Hong Kong, 1992, Ngai Choi Lam
In simplest terms, it’s a man versus monster story with visual themes that make it feel like a Hong Kong action take on John Carpenter’s The Thing. This beast from the waking nightmares of an anime schoolgirl even absorbs and possesses humans left and right with its girthy tentacles to use as fleshy meat puppets just like its arctic cousin. Its first victim is a dead or dying hobo in a drainage ditch and boy is his bug eyed, slowly melting form wasted. I wanted to see a zombie hobo fight a space cat and I didn’t get that. What a tease. On the plus side, we do get to see a dog and a cat (at least a puppet of one) have an extended martial arts battle in a junkyard. Eventually the aliens team up with a famed adventurer and novelist named Wisely and one of them is lost performing the ancient combat art of the vodka kamikaze attack. With only an alien chick, a cat, and Chinese Indiana Jones standing between Earth and a sticky, poorly animated demise, the surviving heroes must collect a magical space McGuffin that will fuse with the cat’s fur and somehow allow it to fly into the alien’s asshole-mouth and make it explode into enough glitter to ruin well over a dozen carpets. Yet again I say, I don’t know why. That’s just how it works, accept it.
The plot feels like it’s more than lip service to justify insane set pieces, but at the same time it’s still kind of stupid. Like, at least Riki-Oh‘s concept sounds interesting to the layman when you spell it out. The Cat is just dumb, and that may be a hold over from its roots as a cheesy action adventure novel but we’ll get back to that. Basically, you can ask someone if they want to watch a movie about a guy in a post-apocalyptic prison that punches holes in dudes to avenge his girlfriend and they’ll at least consider it. Lay down a scifi horror movie about a space cat and his bodyguards fighting a dude turned into a Terminator by intergalactic snot and they’ll ask you how you got into their home and sternly but politely escort you out. But for fans of exactly this kind of thing, you’ll love this. Because why wouldn’t you?
The technical side of things is a bit hard to comment on. If this was as cleaned up as the last few Riki-Oh releases I feel like it’d be gorgeous, but considering I watched it on the long dead relic of home video formats that is the VCD it was hard to judge the visuals. It looked fine, but the blur hid the beautiful cat puppet and disgusting stop motion giant alien head… thing. It’s something I’d love to see remastered one of these days, it really has a lot to show off visually and most of the available viewing options won’t let it shine. The action choreography still bled through that SD Vaseline smear, though. The whole fight at Wisely’s home against his alien possessed former homie was bad ass, and the cat-dog junkyard battle was incredibly unique and fun to watch and the showdown in the gun runner’s shack was as slick as it was goofy.
Not much info on the production of the movie floating around out there, so instead I’ll talk a bit about its origins. This is a Wisely movie. Meaning it’s an adaptation of one of the hundred and fifty or so Wisely novels. Wisely is, from what I found online, basically the Chinese equivalent of the Doc Savage style adventurers that influenced the likes of Indiana Jones. He’s a smooth talking, rough and tumble hero and novelist who comes in contact with near endless streams of ancient, demonic, and space-borne artifacts and oddities. I’m practically illiterate when it comes to English so excuse me for not being interested enough in these stories to bother reading any of them in their native tongue. The cool thing is that a lot of the stories have been adapted for TV and the big screen with varying quality but seemingly consistent entertainment value. Of the one Wisely film I’ve seen thus far, The Cat is definitely the best. Because it’s the only one I’ve seen, yes, but also because it has a guy dousing himself in Russian spirits, lighting himself on fire, and stage diving off a roof onto a body-snatched Resident Evil reject. That’s gonna be tough to beat. Now having said that, I’ve yet to see Ngai Choi Lam’s other attempt a Wisely story, The Seventh Curse. I swear if anyone should be adapting these books it’s guy.
So this is the part where I’d normally tell you to rush out and grab whatever piece of shit I’m hocking. Problem is, that’s damn near impossible in this case. The Cat is disgustingly rare. Like, I’ve seen copies online for eight hundred dollars, that kind of rare. I have no idea who decided to round up every copy of this movie and have a carcinogenic weenie roast with them, but whoever they are can fuck right off. By sheer luck I managed to snap two VCD copies thanks to the brave efforts of a redditor by the name of iamaccounttwo who linked me to some eBay auctions for the film. No DVD has been found yet for less than half a fucking grand, but the fact that I have these copies at all tells me they’re starting to trickle back into the secondhand market. Watch eBay, watch Amazon, and don’t stop looking until you find The Cat. It’s beyond worth it.
It isn’t available. Anywhere, apparently. I mean, supposedly there exist multiple Hong Kong releases on DVD and VCD, and I’ve even seen evidence of a French double feature release where it was re-labeled Karate Cat or something. If you see a copy, get it and never let go. (Editor’s note: Mondo Exploito scribe Pierre has the Fortune Star DVD — it’s decent quality. Grab that version if you can.)