Director Herman Yau new movie, The Sleep Curse, deals with revenge and gender. Photo: Chau Man Kit/Asia Times

When Hong Kong movie fans talk about cult films, they cannot help but mention director Herman Yau’s horror features, The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996).

Yau has been working in the Hong Kong film industry for more than 30 years and has directed more than 60 films, including not only thrillers, but also comedy, romance, action, crime and more.

Today, Yau continues to push the boundaries of the Hong Kong Film Censorship Ordinance with his new thriller, The Sleep Curse, which includes a graphic scene of a man’s penis being lopped off. And fans are wondering whether it is another cult film.

“Whether my film becomes a cult hit or not, it should be judged by the audience. As for me, it is a unique film. You can never find another The Sleep Curse,” said Yau.

The Sleep Curse starring actress Michelle Wai. Photo: HKIFF

Set in Japan’s wartime occupation of Hong Kong in 1941 to 1945, a young translator collaborates with the enemy. He witnesses a “comfort woman” being murdered, but does nothing and she curses the translator as she dies.

Forty-five years later, the man’s sins come back to haunt his son, a professor who specializes in sleep disorders, at the same time when the ghost of the comfort woman returns to seek vengeance.

Although some of the films’ graphic scenes will not pass the censors and must be cut because of the bloody violence, fans will still able to watch the director’s cut at the 41st Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF).

When people are watching Yau’s bloodthirsty thrillers, they usually doubt that such brutal scenes could be real such as peeling the face of a person and the killer sucking the eyeball from a victim’s head in The Untold Story.

“This is the post-truth era. There are many kinds of truths. Nowadays, people just believe what they believe,” he said. “Concepts break the truth.”

Yau follows the realism approach to handle his films and prefers to do as much research as he can, in pursuit of making the film look more realistic.

“Unfortunately, many people do not even try to investigate whether it is true or not, but directly and immediately say that it is not true, according to their preconceived ideas,” he said.

“Just like one of my Ip Man films, some of the audiences criticized it because it was impossible that the street was so clean in that time period. However, before shooting that film, I had looked at hundreds of photos and read a lot of articles, which all showed that people were so poor and there was no rubbish on the street,” Yau added.

As for him, bloody and violent scenes are a means of telling the story. He does not care how the audiences perceive his films; however, he is more concerned about the storyline of the film.

“This time, I want to discuss retribution. Everyone has his or her own dark side. So how do we define a good man? How high is the moral threshold of being a good person? If someone did something evil for ineffable reasons, can this be justified?” he asks.

Anthony Wong stars in The Sleep Curse by Herman Yau. Photo: HKIFF

Fewer bloody Hong Kong cult films have been produced in recent years. Yau said the huge mainland China film market was the main spark behind the present phenomenon.

“The film investors usually want to earn a lot of money from China, but it is difficult for this type of film to be screened in the mainland. Therefore, they choose to put money in other genres.”

Yau said there were several problems in the Hong Kong film industry, including lack of vision and self-censorship from investors.

“Nobody says that the story doesn’t work, but investors instantly believe  that it won’t work from at the very beginning,” he said.

Director Herman Yau chats about his new horror film. Photo:Asia Times/Chau Man Kit

Yau is optimistic toward the future of Hong Kong film industry because teenagers now have more choices and opportunities to study film in the city, including Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, City University of Hong Kong and more.

“I believe that one day there will be a time in which diverse genres of local films flourished in Hong Kong, including cult films,” Yau said.