Hong Kong director Soi Cheang enters the gruesome world of serial killers in his noir thriller, Limbo (Zhi Chi). There’s a serial killer on the prowl who targets young female drug addicts and slowly tortures them. First, he cuts off their hands and feet and then lets them loose. Not long after, he hunts them down again and sexually assaults his victims, all before ending their suffering for good.
On the case are veteran detective Cham Lau (Ka-Tung Lam) and his rookie partner, Will Ren (Mason Lee). Will finds himself in a precarious position as Cham is a bit nuts after a brutal attack on his now invalid wife and dead daughter. While investigating the killer’s latest victim found in a dumpster, Cham comes across Wong To (Yase Liu), a drug runner and the woman responsible for the accident involving his family.
This is when Cham flips and chases Wong with his car down a parking structure and various alleys. When he finally catches her, he beats her senseless. Now, Will has had enough of his mentor’s antics and reports him to his superiors. Needing to solve these murders, Will is responsible for Cham’s behavior as Cham is obsessed with ruining Wong To’s life.
“…investigating the killer’s latest victim found in a dumpster…”
I don’t usually say this about Chinese films, but Limbo is about as American as an action thriller gets. Kin-Yee Au and Kwan-Sin Shum have written a dark tale that borders on torture porn when we see the MO of the serial killer. Though not quite gruesome like the Saw franchise, we’re privy to the killer’s dismemberment rituals and brutal rape of a victim-held prisoner.
Equally violent is Cham Lau. This dude is royally messed up. Apparently, police brutality is acceptable in Chinese police investigations, but even in China, there’s a limit. At one point, Wong To offers herself as an informant. For her trouble, Cham goes ape-s**t on her a**. Let’s just say Wong To is the story’s punching bag, and her fate is neither for the faint of heart nor the woke. You’d never see a scene like this in American cop dramas, especially when the officer is the good guy.
Where Limbo shines is the cinematography. Shot in black and white, though not stylized in the same way, the film’s visuals remind me of Sin City. Cinematographer Siu-Keung Cheng is an artist with his black and white canvas. Each shot is a work of art and meticulously lit in both daylight and nighttime settings.
I don’t usually like playing the comparison game with films, but it’s hard not to here. I’ve already compared it to Sin City in style, and I’d add Seven in terms of the dark, brutal undertones of the story. Lastly, Limbo stands out as a competent cop-drama noir. Our three heroes are put through the wringer and barely come out with their sanity and their lives. Cheang holds nothing back.
"…holds nothing back.."