The “Asian extreme” genre has been on the wane since its glory days. Where once we flocked to the nastiest films we could find to get our fix of torture, bodily functions, and immoral behaviour, now audiences are seeking out either less extreme work, or extreme films whose weirdness is less nasty. There’s more of an expectation that these movies have something underpinning their extreme content. That's probably my personal tastes changing as much as anything else, but I've seen it reflected in festival programming as well. Frankly, it’s brought out better films than pure gorehound instinct ever would.
KFC, by Vietnamese filmmaker Le Binh Giang, is not one of those films.
Broadly speaking, KFC is a movie about cannibalism, and it's hard to get more specific than that. With storytelling that jumps between characters and timelines, there's no real "protagonist" in KFC. One storyline follows a cannibal doctor who runs people over with an ambulance before fucking and eating their corpses. Another, featuring some of the film's most transcendent moments, follows a set of young street pickpockets as they befriend the doctor’s son (who’s grown fat on a diet of human flesh). Despite many goings-on, nothing “happens” in a narrative sense; the film simply depicts the status-quo in its particular neighbourhood.
All the weird shit Westerners have traditionally enjoyed about transgressive Asian genre cinema is present in abundance. Multiple penises get removed and/or eaten. Teeth and tongues are subjected to an outrageous amount of abuse. One memorable scene sees the doctor cut off a victim's armpit (!) and munch away on it, hair and all. There's even some surprising low-key comedy amongst it all, including a running gag about the benefits of mixing Pepsi with Coke. At its best, KFC is a gleeful splatter film, using creative makeup effects to generate squeamish laughs. It’d make a great YouTube reel.
But as delightful as these gore gags are, there's a mean streak to many of them that, with little substance underneath, makes KFC a distasteful watch. Necrophilia and rape are presented in much the same light as the jokey splatter scenes, taking the film down a notch from "transgressive" to "juvenile." Unless I'm missing an important Vietnam-specific cultural reference, there's little meaning to all this torture, corpse-fucking, and sexual violence. As a result, much of the extreme content feels paradoxically obligatory, worthwhile only to gorehounds with rock-bottom expectations.
The most incredible thing about KFC - its truly standout feature - is that not only is the film titled KFC; the whole movie takes place in and around an actual KFC outlet. All logos are fully visible; characters wear KFC staff uniforms and discuss and consume KFC products; even the name of the specific store in the film gets mentioned (just in case you want to visit). Even in Vietnam, where corporate oversight is surely less strict than elsewhere, it's astonishing that this film in particular could get produced so openly. It would evoke Escape From Tomorrow if it weren't so brazen and open about what it was doing. And if it brought its corporate criticism to any kind of point.
KFC's production quality, much like its namesake's products, ranges from amateur to impressive. The sound design stands out as particularly bad, with poorly mixed foley and uneven ambience levels. Much of the film is shot dimly and grimily, with little visual flourish, while the occasional action sequence (notably, credited to a different director) jumps out with excitement and some of the film’s best shots. Only the makeup effects are reliably solid, which says something about the kind of movie KFC strives to be.
KFC raises intriguing questions for fans of Asian genre cinema. Where is the line in quality where a film ostensibly constructed out of your kinda shit becomes unpleasant to watch? At 70 minutes, the film feels rushed, a cavalcade of carnage with nothing to say and no story to tell, hitting on Asian-extreme tropes without doing anything original or meaningful with them. There’s the germ of an interesting movie here, but ultimately the film is like a severed limb: bloody, cold, and rapidly passing its use-by date.