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With a bit more gore and violence, and stir fry a bit more sex, James Lee’s Claypot Curry Killers (2011) could have been a real milestone in Malaysian horror movies, the censors be damned! Stephen Tan reviews.

With its blood, guts and a severed willy, James Lee’s Claypot Curry Killers aka Spicy Killers (2011) could well be Malaysia’s first bona fide horror movie. However, its controversial history makes it unlikely for most Malaysians to watch the uncensored version. It was only in September 2013, two years after it was made, that Claypot Curry Killers finally found its way to Malaysian cable (Astro First) after being blocked twice in three years by the Malaysian censors.

It is not known what the censors objected to - it could be the film’s violence or even the cannibalistic nature of the film.

As a mother with three young daughters, Mrs Chew, who runs a food stall, is constantly beaten by her gambler husband. As if that’s not enough, the husband also sexually abuses his eldest daughter, Xi Xi, until he is discovered by his wife. He turns his anger on his wife and practically strangles her only to find Xi Xi plunging a knife into his back. Mrs Chew pulls out the knife and continues stabbing the man.

Even before the husband’s body can get cold, an ah long (loan shark) shows up demanding his money and he also gets his throat cut. To dispose the bodies, Mrs Chew, together with her two older daughters, chop them up, and the parts are added to her curry dish.

With their secret ingredient, Mrs Chew’s food stall becomes popular and grows into a restaurant. For fresh meat, Xi Xi lures unsuspecting men with her sex. And so it was until their restaurant’s popularity catches the attention of food critic Chow. On the pretext of featuring Mrs Chew’s restaurant on his food show, Chow wants to know the secret ingredient that Mrs Chew uses.

While Chow is all talk and bluster, it is Chow’s associate, Martin, that Mrs Chew fears. Xi Xi lures Martin out before killing him. Chow tries to get some gangsters to intimidate Mrs Chew but they too are killed.

In the meantime, youngest daughter Xi Mei meets a fellow student, Andrew, who drugs her and later blackmails her with her semi-nude pictures. Second daughter, Xi Yu, finds herself getting attracted to the kind Dr Cheong. To protect her family, Mrs Chew holds a special dinner and the guests are Chow, Andrew and Dr Cheong.

Because of censorship, James Lee’s Claypot Curry Killers has a totally different ending for the cable version. As it is, searches on the net reveal the show having different running times: 90 mins; 93 mins; and 97 mins for the blu-ray version. The cable version clocks in at 82 mins. It is likely the blu-ray version is the “uncut” version though one wonders how much would have been included if Lee had released a “totally uncut and explicit” version.

In the cable version, the introduction and killing of the ah long at the beginning has been cut out. The sequence of Xi Xi torturing Martin is heavily censored. Viewers do not get to see Martin’s bloody hand after being repeatedly hammered; and shots of Xi Xi cutting off Martin’s fingers and ear are gone. The following sequence is also censored: Xi Xi climbs on top of the strapped-down Martin and slowly rubs her body against him until he gets a hard on. She reaches under the sheets and cuts off the man’s penis; and holds it up for a moment before discarding it.

Later, after discovering Xi Yu’s interest in Dr Cheong, Xi Xi tells her sister of the importance of their own relationship and kisses her on the lips. The kiss - a hint of lesbianism and physical intimacy between the two sisters - is censored in the cable version. Then, at the final dinner, Xi Yu’s slashing of Andrew’s face goes on far longer and is more intense.

What will come as a surprise when comparing the cable and blu-ray versions is the ending of the movie. In the blu-ray version, Xi Yu pleads for Dr Cheong’s life and Xi Xi offers an alternative for Xi Yu and Dr Cheong  to be together - they cut off his limbs so that he will be dependent on her for the rest of his life!

In the cable version, however, Andrew manages to call the police before he dies. The police SWAT team arrives and even frees Dr Cheong, who remains unharmed, and who can only sadly look at Xi Yu as the police drives her away, together with her family.

Film purists will probably baulk at the movie’s two totally different endings. It’s a “feel-good” ending for the cable version, the innocent Dr Cheong is not harmed; though the entire Chew family is arrested. The film ends with a coda showing Mrs Chew and her young daughters when they were happy together in the past. However, the blu-ray version has a more nihilistic ending. Men don’t count for much and practically all the men characters are killed off, leaving Dr Cheong, the one decent person, maimed and begging for his life.

Malaysian filmmaker James Lee might have gotten the idea of adding human parts to curry from the 1987 true-life murder in $ingapore where the body of a 34-year-old man was alleged to have been “cooked into a curry before being disposed of in garbage containers”. However, comparisons between Claypot Curry Killers and Tiwa Moeithaisong’s The Meat Grinder (2009) and Herman Yau’s The Untold Story (1993) are rife. In spite of Lee’s movie being cleanly photographed, Claypot Curry Killers comes across a bit antiseptic and even clinical and lacks the grit and grime of The Meat Grinder or the crazed pathos displayed by Anthony Wong in The Untold Story.

In Claypot, it is Pearlly Chua, as the world-weary Mrs Chew, who shows a real sign of being conflicted by what she does and her only solace is in the Hokkien opera tunes that she listens to for company. Mrs Chew tries to emphasise the importance of the family but what do you do when the family is already rotten at the core? It is also unfortunate that the three daughters are generally cool and distant and, though one sympathises with them, viewers can’t really go out and root for any of them.

As with most indie productions, money, or a lack of it, is a problem. Still, the make up in Claypot is fairly good - the ah long throat slash looks believable; the blood generally looks convincing; one can wince at the cuts on Andrew’s face; one character gets his lower lip bitten off; and the limbless Dr Cheong is still a startling sight. For gore fans, Lee has included some spouting blood from the neck - it’s not geyser-like Japanese style but you know it’s getting there.

Note: In September 2015, Claypot Curry Killers (Uncut Limited Edition blu-ray) was released in Germany. This is reputed to be the uncut original version, and it’s considered expensive at 45 Euros. Despite many internet sites saying that the film is in Malay, it is actually in Mandarin with a mix of Cantonese and Hokkien. So far, the English subtitles for the film have yet to surface. Until the show comes with English subs, Malaysia’s Claypot Curry Killers has, for now, found a following among German and European Asian Trash Film fans. The Claypot Curry Killers blu-ray is banned in $ingapore.

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