The Oily Maniac (1976) aka You Gui Zi
Dir. Meng Hua Ho
Written by Lam Chua (as Tsai Lan)
Starring Danny Lee, Ping Chen, Lily Li
THE OILY MANIAC is indeed about an oily maniac, only more so than you might imagine. When I think “Oily Maniac,” I usually think about Joe Spinell from MANIAC or something, I mean, I guess we can argue about specifically how oily you have to be before it’s important enough to mention in the title, but he was definitely not looking particularly well-showered, and was at least nominally a maniac, it’s right there in the title. Or maybe Michael Ironside from VISITING HOURS, also. But this was 1976, and the Shaw Brothers had a far grander vision: a maniac who is exclusively oil. That is to say, some kind of malevolent, anthropomorphized oil slick, which shapes itself into a rough approximation of the human form when it wants to lay some slippery smackdown on its enemies. As I noted, there are many movies which are about maniacs, for example MANIAC (1934), MANIAC (1963), MANIAC (1980), MANIAC (2001), MANIAC (2012), MANIAC COP, MANIAC COP 2, MANIAC COP 3, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!, 2001 MANIACS, MANIACS ON WHEELS*, MANIAC KILLER, THE INVISIBLE MANIAC, NEON MANIACS, NYMPHOMANIAC, LITZOMANIA etc. But this is probably the only one which has such a strong emphasis on oiliness as well, I bet.
It wasn’t always this way, though. Once upon a time, Shen Yuan (Danny Lee, THE KILLER, CITY ON FIRE) was just a normal schlub who probably didn’t think very much if at all about the possibility that he would one day be an Oily Maniac. But when his beloved uncle (Ku Feng, THE AVENGING EAGLE) is unjustly sentenced to death for the crime of defending his daughter from being raped by mobsters, Shen is filled with remorse that his legs --crippled by polio-- will not allow him to do much in the way of vengeance. That’s when Uncle mentions that no big deal, but he has a tattoo on his back with a Malaysian magic spell that will turn you into an Oily Maniac, if that’s, you know, your thing. Well, Shen is a “try anything twice” kinda guy, so before long he’s Maniac’d himself into a hulking supernatural murder machine, which turns out to be useful almost immediately when more mobsters show up to try and rape the daughter again. It also turns out to be useful when Shen discovers that his beautiful cousin (Chen Ping, THE KISS OF DEATH) --who he’s been putting the moves on-- has to refuse his amorous advances and then have hot naked sex with some disco suit wearing lady’s man while her sexually frustrated cuz peeps through the window and decides that being an Oily Maniac would be a good outlet for his impotent possessive rage. Turns out being an Oily Maniac is like nuclear power, it can be used for beneficial and arguably less beneficial types of purposes.
The good thing about the movie is obviously the Oily Maniac him(its?)self. Considering its fundamentally viscous nature, it looks surprisingly like a stuntman in a bulky rubber suit who has to clumsily bludgeon people with his stiff rubbery arms. It doesn’t even look like they consistently grease the suit up or anything to make it look shiny. So at first I thought that wasn’t very realistic, but then I thought, you know what, they use oil to make rubber, don’t they? Probably the Oily Maniac is actually oily only in his liquid state, and when he turns into his anthropomorphic mode, he probably really is more of a rubbery maniac, like a car tire. So, 100% scientifically accurate. I guess the maniafication process requires our hero to grease himself up first, so there are many funny situations where he has to transform and needs to quickly find a conveniently placed barrel of cooking oil or something nearby.
The design of the maniac is not, in itself, all that great; it’s just sort of a blobby, undefined mass, and in fact resembles the cheesy tar monster thing from that first-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation except with the addition of some improbably well-defined legs. (I don’t want to be racist or anything but all these bulky black liquid-based monsters look alike, I know that’s not a “politically correct” thing to say but hey, at least I’m still against interning people based on religion which pretty much qualifies me as a socialist pinko elitist East Coast intellectual these days.) Observe:
But anyway it’s pretty funny to watch this Oily Maniac lumber around and subdue people with his oily might. And they compensate for his somewhat underwhelming appearance by throwing at least a few oily gimmicks at you; the maniac sneaks into an apartment through the sink drain, transforms into an oily slicks and gloops up the walls and onto the ceiling (you know, like oil does), loses a limb and then liquefies to reattach it. It probably needed a little more of that, though, because ultimately the only thing he can really do is whack people with his big rubbery arms, and that gets old pretty fast. It’s a Shaw Bros. film, but come on, it’s all the guy in the suit can do to stay upright and ambulatory, he’s not doing any fancy finishing moves or anything.
This is a problem because the rest of the story ain’t exactly gripping stuff. Mostly the maniac just encounters people he doesn’t like (usually at his job as a typewriter jockey at a sleazy lawyer’s office) and then follows them home and Maniac’s them. A lot of them are women who find various reasons to take their tops off while the camera ogles them, regardless of how contextually unappealing the situation might be (for example, a lady who takes her top off to demonstrate that she has been the victim of disastrous Cronenbergian breast surgery). The most egregious example of this is a RASHOMON type courtroom situation where a guy is being accused of brutally raping his neighbor, but claims it was in fact her who calculatingly trapped him in her apartment and took rampant advantage of him in order to try and take him to court later. We’re treated to a long vignette of both scenarios, which the film seems to regard as equally worthy of its blatantly lascivious attentions, and guess what? It turns out the guy was telling the truth, women only report rape as a means to bilk honest guys out of their cash. If only there was some kind of supernatural maniac who could teach her a lesson by murdering her in her apartment. Oh wait! There is! It was right around this point that I started to wonder if maybe THE OILY MANIAC does not have the most healthy attitude towards women, maybe.**
Obviously it would be impossible to tell you any kind of movie which consistently featured an Oily Maniac was bad, exactly, but I feel that this one should probably be better than it is. Complaining about the plot being episodic and uninvolving is probably beside the point, and if you’re going to enjoy any Asian cinema you’re just going to have to overlook a lot of casual misogyny and uncomfortably leering rape scenes, but it’s a little harder to excuse the generally underwhelming use of the film’s central gimmick. If you’ve got an Oily Maniac to play with, I need you to do more with it than just have it come out of a faucet. Have somebody drink him, and he kills them by forcing his way out their dickhole. Have him come through a sprinkler system and have each limb land on a different opponent. Have him heat himself to a boil and then dump himself on an unsuspecting mobster. Put him in a crossover with THE TRANSPORTER only to learn that Jason Statham also gets more powerful as he gets oily. Let’s have a little more hustle here guys. The film has its charms --both in terms of comically inept monster movies and cringingly bad-taste Hong Kong comedies-- plus, you gotta respect the boldness of its blatant and wholesale theft of the JAWS theme, but even so, it drags a bit and feels a lot longer than its slim 84 minute runtime. It’s OK for what it is, though. You can’t expect the filmmaking on a movie like OILY MANIAC to be especially… slick.
“Oily Maniac' has lots of nudity and lots of sexual violence. Every Female character shows their boobs, except Lily Li. Don't show this film to your feminist girlfriend because there's plenty of rape scenes that she couldn't handle.” -- IMDB user RobinsonGruesome, 4 July 2008. (Yes, of course it was July 4).
*Alternate title: ONCE A JOLLY SWAGMAN. I’m not even a little kidding.
** I was kind of shocked to see that director Meng Hua Ho did THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, until I remembered that the good one is actually its sequel, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. Whew, that was a close one!
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
You Gui Zi
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Hong Kong/ Malaysia
Monster Movie / Creature Feature
Danny Lee, maybe?
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Yes, many if not all the women have their top ripped off at some point
Yeah, although it turns out to be one of those unreliable narrator deals and didn’t happen; instead, they accused guy’s completely ridiculous story was apparently true, I guess? But anyway, it’s OK because early on some thugs try and rape Shen’s cousin before the Maniac stops them. So you get a real one in there, and the movie is against it.
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
Yep, into Oily Maniac
Yeah, our guy watches his cousin and some dude bang through a window, classy
MORAL OF THE STORY
We actually reached peak oil in 1976.