Daughter Of Darkness

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Kai-Ming Lai’s Daughter Of Darkness (1993) is one of the best known entries in Hong Kong cinema’s Category III pseudo sub-genre. Category III films encompass a wide variety of genres that are linked only by this equivalent to an NC-17 or X rating. As is the case with most Category III films Daughter Of Darkness offers viewers highly misogynistic spectacles throughout the course of a narrative that goes from broad comedy (albeit extremely tasteless) to nihilistic tragedy.

Daughter Of Darkness, for all of its visceral thrills, is a film about how the criminal justice system fails the victims of abuse and rape. Mak Wei-Fong (Lily Chung) is systematically abused by her family and repeated raped by her father (Ka-Kui Ho). Mak Wei-Fong snaps, killing them all brutally and then experiences a sort of selective amnesia, reporting their murders to police Captain Lui (Anthony Wong). In short order Cpt. Lui charges Mak Wei-Fong, pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, and she is tried and convicted of murder. After giving birth, Mak Wei-Fong is executed by firing squad.

For the first thirty minutes of Daughter Of Darkness the film focuses on Cpt. Lui’s murder investigation. Kai-Ming Lai satirizes police brutality and incompetence by rendering Cpt. Lui as a kind of Inspector Clouseau as he comically attempts to recreate the murder scene. But this zaniness is counterbalanced by Lui’s molestation of a dead girl’s breasts, by his posing merrily with victims’ corpses and by his general attitude of distrust towards Mak Wei-Fong. Before Kai-Ming Lai even shows viewers the horrors of Mak Wei-Fong’s abuse he has already laid the groundwork for equating the police force with the actions of a serial rapist.

The sexual abuse in Daughter Of Darkness ranges from peeping through key holes to active penetration to the song Row, Row, Row Your Boat. These scenes of abuse are horrendous, long, and clearly meant to titillate the spectator. Mak Wei-Fong is forever the victim in a world controlled and dominated by men (her father and Cpt. Lui). Kai-Ming Lai generally sympathizes with Mak Wei-Fong’s plight but never at the expense of schadenfreude.

Daughter Of Darkness never advocates or suggests any alternatives to the system that fails Mak Wei-Fong. What Kai-Ming Lai does is acknowledge that system’s shortcomings and then embraces them for all of their potential entertainment value. This is arguably the allure of Daughter Of Darkness and the Category III film; these films often subvert just as they reaffirm.

Essentially the viewer can indulge in some of the most exploitative fantasies ever committed to film while also being allowed to excuse or dismiss those same fantasies as little more than the byproduct of some fictional antagonist. The value of a film like Daughter Of Darkness isn’t derived exclusively from its narrative complex or aesthetic design, but is more about what such films say about our human culture at large.