A handful of Asian companies still release their movies on the inferior VCD format (equivalent to average VHS quality) before they go the DVD route.
Titles the distributor has little faith in don't make it to DVD at all.
Celestial (via Intercontinental Video Ltd.) are releasing hundreds of Shaw Brothers titles in Asia. Some are quite rare and obscure.
I had only read about the 5-part The Criminals series when hunting down everything ever made by Mou Tun-fei (Men Behind the Sun, Black Sun, Lost Souls and more) and Kuei Chi-hung (Killer Snakes, Corpse Mania, The Boxer's Omen, Bamboo House of Dolls and more).
I was elated last year to discover that Celestial was releasing the entire The Criminals series on VCD (no DVD's at this time). After a considerable wait and some treachery, I paid a small sum for the five VCD's comprising this amazing series.
The fifth (and last) VCD went into my player first. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot.
The product is titled The Criminals 5 - A Teenager's Nightmare, but it includes Mou Tun-fei's excellent Gun and Kuei Chi-hung's A Teenager's Nightmare; both films clock in at around 45 minutes.
My imdb review, which I will now embellish where necessary, went something like this:
"What a rare treat this fifth installment in The Criminals series is -- two extremely interesting films for the price of one.
"The first, Gun, is by TF Mous, the audacious director of the landmark Men Behind The Sun.
"Two young scoundrels find hand grenades and a dismantled gun after a smuggler is killed trying to hide them. The scoundrels assemble the weapon and begin a crime spree that ends badly (and with a gory bang); this is a Mous film, of course, so don't expect any pleasantries. What was unexpected is that this film is solid, kinetic film-making with brutal fight scenes and exciting, innovative cinematography and direction.
"There is some genuine suspense and Mous demonstrates his trademark "take no prisoners" approach to the material."The second mini-feature, A Teenager's Nightmare, is directed by Kuei Chi-hung, the man who brought us Killer Snakes and Bamboo House of Dolls. It more than lives us to its title -- in fact, some folks will have big problems with its content.
"A rapist, who hides behind a pair of mirror sunglasses, trains his pedophilic gaze on several young girls in their early teens. Forcing them to strip at knifepoint, he fondles and abuses them before proceeding with bloody defilement (all are virgins, of course, and given to bleeding). The dim-witted cops are always several steps behind the "pervert", and when the rape count climbs to seven, one of the cop's teenage daughters is talked into becoming the sicko's bait.
"In true Hong Kong style, the cops are too busy gambling to hear the rapist going about his violation of the young girl. "Only in Hong Kong cinema!" you might scream, and you may be right. Although the source of the rapist's anger towards young girls is a childhood incident involving his pre-teen stepsister (which Dr. Lamb may have borrowed), he is also obsessed with a particular porno magazine that features a naked photograph (shown briefly) of Eva Ionesco, the star of Maladolescenza, which was made in the very same year ('77).
"One can only speculate that the Shaw's jumped on the short-lived Maladolescenza-inspired, international bandwagon (or was it the cult of Eva Ionesco?) by proceeding with production on this incendiary storyline (much harsher than other entries in the series). The director pulls few punches and depicts the pre-rape ripping, tearing, and fondling graphically. The actual rapes are cleverly suggested. What keeps this from being a truly nasty classic is the slightly cheesy music and a couple of attempts at humor. Still, this is a cinematic lottery win from two of Hong Kong's sultans of sleaze and extremism. It is not to be ignored."
There are many obscure treasures to be found in the VCD world including my favorite version of Bullet in the Head, which contains all the original music cues (no other version in any format contains them). It also features the office ending, not the ludicrous and stylistically inconsistent car jousting climax.
Another obscurity that is the perfect sparring partner for TF Mous' Lost Souls ('80) is Without A Promised Land ('80), a mean-spirited, nihilistic look at the Vietnamese refugee situation in Hong Kong. Like the terrific Lost Souls, it is, ultimately, an excuse for lurid rape, murder, and assault scenes.