Blu-ray Release: December 26, 2023
Audio: Cantonese LPCM 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 95:43
Director: Lai Kai-Ming
A police officer named Joe (Shing Fui-On) is living a happy life with his pregnant wife (Wong Siu-Fung). One day, he gets a tip about a bank robbery and rushes to it, only to be killed. Fortunately, he’s inexplicably resurrected when a black cat jumps onto his body and is hit by lightning. Reborn, Joe plans to take revenge on his killers. (From 88 Films’ official synopsis)
In 1988, Hong Kong introduced a rating system that included something called Category III (or Cat III). It was essentially equivalent to the MPAA’s NC-17 (which hadn’t yet been created) and BBFC’s 18 certificate. Cat III movies were not hardcore pornography, but did include X-rated softcore sex, full frontal female nudity, graphic violence, and depiction of Triad gangs. Combined with a small collection of films that were retroactively re-rated Cat III, there was a short Golden Era between '88 and ‘97 when the colony was absorbed by Mainland China, in which the unofficial Cat III canon was established among cult film lovers. Released months before two of the biggest canon entries – Michael Mak’s erotic comedy, Sex and Zen (1991) and Lam Ngai Choi’s comedic kung-fu gore epic Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (also 1991) – was one of many overlooked movies of the Cat III era, Lai Kai-Ming’s (aka: Ivan Lai) The Blue Jean Monster.
Presumably, The Blue Jean Monster was inspired by the massive international success of Paul Verhoven’s Robocop (1987), a darkly comedic dystopian sci-fi film in which a heroic cop dies and is resurrected by a heartless megacorporation as a cyborg police enforcer. It’s not a rip-off (if you’re looking for a wacky, Hong Kong-flavored Robocop, check out Godfrey Ho’s Robo Vampire ), rather, Lai and writer Ng Kam-Hung (along with anyone else not credited) recognized that Robocop was (in part) an update of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (pub. 1818), so they made a darkly comic action-horror movie in which a heroic cop dies and is resurrected as a walking corpse by an electric shock. Additional inspiration might have been taken from Mark Goldblatt’s Dead Heat and Bill Lustig’s Maniac Cop, both about reanimated zombie cops and both released quickly in the wake of Robocop (edit: assistant director Sam Leong claims that Lai was aware of Dead Heat in particular in the interview on this disc).
From here, though, The Blue Jean Monster largely goes its own way, only relating to Robocop, Frankenstein, and vampire fiction in broad strokes. It is a thoroughly Hong Kong take on these ideas, steeped in the region’s spiritualism, inhabited by quirky, charming born losers, and hinged upon a number of irresponsibly dangerous car chases, shoot-outs, and other stunts. The entertainment value is found mostly in the film’s refusal to adhere to a single tone or even genre for longer than a couple of minutes, as well as its ability to deliver upon its many disparate promises. The bawdy domestic comedy elements, in which Joe tries to disguise his condition from his overbearing wife and annoying friend/brother (I’m honestly not sure what their relation is), are largely obnoxious (not to mention sexist and homophobic), but Shing Fui-On is consistently sweet and funny in a rare nice guy role and Gloria Yip’s infectiously cute presence tends to elevate other comedic sequences. The frenetic action is spread over the entire film, ensuring little downtime between set-pieces, and there is plenty of Cat. III-level violence (including a possible Robocop reference when a manager has his entire hand blown off with a single gunshot). Joe’s rotting body is also fodder for gross-out gore effects, though nothing quite as extreme as the aforementioned Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.
Director Lai began his career as an assistant director and stunt coordinator, working on Dennis Yu’s Crazy Kung Fu Master and Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam (1985), among others. The Blue Jean Monster was his second film as lead director, following straightforward police action/drama Thank You, Sir! (1989), also starring Shing Fui-On. After The Blue Jean Monster, he stuck largely to Cat III titles, including softcore comedy sequel Erotic Ghost Story III (1992), the grotty rape/revenge story Daughters of Darkness (1993) and its sequel (1994), and the grotty melodrama Ancient Chinese Whorehouse (1994). He also continued making horror films and even horror-action hybrids, though seemingly minus the comedic edge, including Ghost House (1995) and God.com (1998).
Blue Jean Monster hasn’t previously been officially available in North America as far as I can tell. Curious fans could import an anamorphic NTSC disc from Hong Kong company Joy Sales and Fortune Star, but they’d have to understand Cantonese or Mandarin, because there were no English language or subtitle options on the disc. This US BD debut from 88 Films (also debuting in Canada and the UK) is taken from a new 2K scan of the original negatives and matches the recently established expectations for the company’s other Fortune Star releases. It’s a little rough, due to age and production style, but is a vast improvement over early. scratchy, often upconverted HK BDs. One of this particular 1.85:1, 1080p disc’s advantages is Kenichi Nakagawa’s comic book-inspired photography with its wide range of colors and contrast levels. Details are neat, but not over-sharpened and grain texture, though sometimes chunky, appears accurate for type. Print damage is minimal, aside from a little extra grit and blur during wider-angle shots.
If Blue Jean Monster was ever dubbed into English and Mandarin, those tracks seem to be lost, because this Blu-ray comes fitted exclusively with an uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono Cantonese track. The dialogue was dubbed in post, as was typically the case, but most of the cast seems to be dubbing their own performances. There’s a twinge of hiss in some scenes, but not a lot of notable distortion otherwise. Alan Tsui’s poppy electronic score includes some fantastically funky cues, fronted by a banger of a main title theme and staccato piano suspense theme. The music is generally the strongest element on the track, aside from especially noisy effects, such as motorcycles, cars, gunshots, and electro-shock explosions.
Man Made Monster (20:27, HD) – Assistant director Sam Leong discusses his early days in the Hong Kong film industry, working at Golden Harvest, working under Lai, Lai’s response to being pigeonholed as a Cat. III filmmaker, the cast, actors being the main consideration for funding at the time, scheduling conflicts, and budgeting issues.
Hong Kong trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.