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  • nickkarner

The Cat (1992)

There’s a joke Robin Williams once told in his stand-up act. It’s about how cats are secretely drag queens and whilst rolling on their backs, they’re pretty much saying: “Who loves kitty?” That assumption is 100% accurate and coincidentally, the theory that cats are indeed from outer space also turns out to be shockingly correct. Well, at least one particularly fluffy black cat currently residing in Hong Kong. When General the cat, not to be confused with Cat’s Eye’s General, isn’t gnawing on a random package or getting cuddled by his alien friend, he’s soaring through the air and suplexing dogs. Yes, the over-the-top nature of this adaptation of Ni Kuang’s “Wisely” adventure novels could only have been made by Hong Kong’s own Ngai Choi Lam, the cinematographer-director of one of the most insane and spectacularly violent films ever made, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991). The almost-as-crazy sci-fi/horror/fantasy The Cat (1992) was his follow-up and would be his final film before retirement. It’s unfortunate when unique and downright wild filmmakers like Lam, Pete Walker, and Alan Parker retire or leave the director’s chair; depriving us of the great or not-so-great work still to come, but The Cat is certainly a one-of-a-kind final say for a director who never met a scene he couldn’t make just a little kooky.

When the Golden Harvest logo came up, along with a wonderful theme tune that sounds like an arcade machine warming up, I thought I was about to see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film; that being my only real exposure to the Hong Kong-based production company’s work in the 90’s. The subtitles burnt into my copy of this obscure little piece of lunacy are admittedly on the rough side, so I won’t be too mean about them, but I must at least address the title screen. “The Cat” comes up, which is fine, but underneath it, we’re treated to an alternate title. It goes as follows: aka 1000 Years Cat The. In that order. What the fuck have I gotten myself into?

While our intrepid writer and adventurer Wisely (John Woo favorite Waise Lee, A Better Tomorrow, Bullet in the Head) calmly recounts his bizarre experiences involving an interstellar princess/alien (Gloria Yip, Riki-Oh), her alien knight Errol (Siu-Ming Lau, The Legend of Drunken Master), and a certain fuzzy warrior feline, an awakened Li Tung (Shek Yin Lau, Bullet in the Head) turns his acting meter up to eleven and pretty much stays there for the duration of his role. Someone is constantly hammering in the apartment above his and he’s so near-sighted that he has to bring an alarm clock up to his nose to read it. I feel ya, buddy. He decides to grow a pair of dumplings and storms upstairs, where he’s greeted by Errol, the space princess, and the cat. I remember thinking, God, I hope this guy isn’t the lead because I’m not gonna be able to take this dude’s acting. Luckily, his hammy acting is only temporary.

The next day, the space trio have moved out and Li Tung decides to investigate. Before I proceed, something needs to be made abundantly clear. There is zero indication of space travel or any science fiction-related elements in this film for nearly half the runtime. Things just seem weird and at most, supernatural. I don’t need my hand held, but it wouldn’t have been unwelcome if we’d seen a brief shot of something entering Earth’s atmosphere. Even when Li Tung stumbles on a bloody pile of intestines, things seem more horrific and ominous than otherworldly. These entrails turn out to be from a cat, so the police see no need to investigate. This is unfair, but I began getting very slight Milo & Otis vibes while watching this film. That infamous Japanese production went through cats and dogs willy-nilly and while there are some awesomely cheesy stop-motion effects as well as great puppet work going on here, one can definitely tell these very fluffy (and very real) tuddies were getting thrown around left and right.

At a dinner party which includes Li Tung and his friends, we’re introduced to the fact that his buddy Wong (Phillip Chung-Fung Kwok, Hard Boiled) is a cop because he uses a gun to crack open a bottle of sake, much like Homer Simpson would use his gun to change the channel on the TV or open a can of beer. Li Tung comments that “Evil is coming to pass in this city.” Why does he think this? Meh, not sure, but he ain’t wrong.

Inside a dank sewer, a shitty sludge begins spewing forth and circulating throughout the pipe before piling into the corpse of a derelict man. Meanwhile, an ancient artifact known as “The Octagon” is stolen by the trio, mainly thanks to the cat touching the protective glass and causing it to ripple and shatter, but the shitty hobo pops up and after his eyeballs literally pop out of their sockets like he’s on fucking Mars, he morphs into an electric mass of wormlike roots and vines. The space crew gets away, but the monstrosity makes short work of the poor guards, burning them and stripping the skin off their faces. Later, investigators seem more concerned about retrieving the Octagon, while the fact that there are multiple dead guards lying about is met with a collective shrug.

Bizarre dialogue like “we can’t kill mankind” and “we’ll wipe out the star killer and return home” is nothing compared to the three, count ‘em, THREE separate shots of Wisely’s girlfriend Pai So’s (Christine Ng, Crime Story) sweaty skin. I’ve never even thought of sweat being something that would weird me out, but the millions of beads on her arms and legs were very off-putting. I’m not entirely certain whether The Cat is supposed to be a children’s fantasy since the goofy, even whimsical moments are interrupted by moments of extreme violence and in this case, a wet t-shirt contest. Wisely decides to bring in the big guns, or the big dogs as it were, so he visits Mr. Chen, played with an infectious jolliness by Wisely author himself, Kuang Ni. They ask to “borrow” Lao Pu, a big beast of a puppy who’s tough but sweet. In fact, he’s the dog that can’t be beat. Is that a song? Ah, never mind. This leads to the most famous segment of the film.

Super Dog vs. Alien Cat, as it’s known on YouTube, is five minutes of absolute bad movie nirvana. It’s an epic junkyard battle that mixes live-action animals fighting each other with various quick cuts to many cat puppets and a freaky-looking stop-motion Lao Pu. It’s frenetic and amazing, with the capper being poor Lao Pu putting up a good fight but ultimately getting flipped over and electrocuted. I was super pissed since I figured the movie was going to let this poor dog, who didn’t do anything wrong, die. I was pleasantly surprised when they take the pup to the hospital and Mr. Chen tearily hugs the big galoot and takes him home. The animal doctor also comments on the cat’s tail Wisely collected after the fight as being extremely old, which puzzles the author-adventurer. The space trio needs the cat tail back for some reason, so in a seriously cheap, animated light effect, the tail is re-attached. They reveal that they’re from a star, literally, and they’re trying to eliminate an evil creature that destroyed their home.

Said creature slowly evolves into something resembling a fungus with lightning coursing through its insides and smoke billowing out of its wounds when injured. It can assimilate humans, with an intriguing touch added since “it takes three days to mutate the human body,” so the alien has only so much time to track down its prey. This is all revealed after it tears one guy’s arms off and burns the others. It uses Wong to infiltrate a local gang and request weaponry. There’s an extended sequence which would give an NRA gun nut a hard-on. One gun is literally pulled from under the arms dealer’s (Chien Hua Hsu, Tokyo Godfather) jacket and he even mentions “all the terrorists use it.” Things go south and the gang fills the man with bullets, but the alien reveals itself with freaky green eyes and annihilates the crew, finishing things off by shoving a grenade into the leader’s mouth.

The alien-as-Wong arms himself to the teeth and tracks down Wisely and the gang, riddling the author’s home with bullets. Even Molotov cocktails can’t slow this guy down. There’s a bit of The Hidden going on here, with an alien using a body until it’s too damaged to function. Here though, this dude can seriously take a beating. He walks through fire and even when a gas tank is lobbed at him, he performs an expert spin kick which sends the tank back! He fires and blows it up before it hits the ground. Whoa, dude! Errol makes the ultimate sacrifice by dousing himself with alcohol (which there is way too much of, by the way) and slows Wong down long enough for them to escape.

After the princess and the cat retrieve the second half of the Octagon, she stares at the stars through a big telescope. A red beam zooms down, which apparently means they’ve made contact. I was reminded of a line from Drop Dead Gorgeous: “Big Excitement!” She’s very enthusiastic. The nature of her race’s anatomy gets pretty weird as she explains that they “travel through radio signals,” “the cat’s body is now a weapon,” and “the Octagon when meshed with the cat hair, can destroy cells.” Pretty heady stuff. What if the cat lost its hair, though?

The final showdown takes place as the creature, which now resembles a bloody pile of goo reminiscent of the Blob, pours out of a huge vent and lays waste to the patrons. It’s ginormous, with that humanoid face sporting bright green eyes which then morphs into a Claymation turtle-thing; little monsters poking their graboid-like faces out of the blood-red goo. To its credit, the filmmakers found a cat, or several cats, who actually can act. The various cuts to the cat’s face actually lend themselves to scenes throughout the film, which is no mean feat considering how limited a cat’s expressions can be. Just ask the makers of the live-action Lion King remake. It’s slightly-annoyed expression here is all the prompting it needs. It hops on the Octagon and we’re treated to a badly green-screened (or animated, depending on the shot) cat flying through the monster’s esophagus, glowing bluish-white, and exploding it from the inside.

With the beast defeated, glitter falls from the skies, which covers the clearly pissed off cat actor, who then joins the alien princess by lightly jogging through the air back to space. Wisely has an “all in a day’s work” attitude about things and heads off to write his new novel, likely stopping by the shelter to check whether there are any other space cats who need a home.

The Cat mixes several genre tropes with a truly wacky concept which doesn’t even really get going until half-way through the film. Without any idea of where the story is going, the pacing can get a little rough, but once the cat gymnastics come into play, particularly the cat vs. dog fight, things pick up quite a bit. Although Riki-Oh would’ve been a perfectly fine way to put the capper on an eclectic career, Lam’s decision to go with a slightly gentler but no less batshit crazy odyssey feels absolutely in tune with his wacked out sensibilities. It’s a film full of jaw-dropping moments, bizarre dialogue, and profoundly silly performances.