Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bewitched (1981) review


Ai Fei (Stephen Lam Wai), Melvin Wong (Bobby Wong King Sun), Fanny (Mary), Lily Chen (Bon Brown), Hussein Bin Abu Hassan (Magusu)

Directed by Kuei Chi Hung

***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity & extreme gore & violence***

Bizarre method of murder

Wong King Sun, a detective in Hong Kong, investigates the violent death of a little girl. Learning that the girls father, Lam Wai, was responsible for the heinous crime, the murderer is soon taken into custody. The frightened man admits to the murder, but claims he was under the influence of a wizard's spell. Recounting the terrible story, Lam spins a gruesome yarn of black sorcery and a vile curse placed on him by a beautiful Thai girl. Through a series of bizarre events, Wong travels to Thailand to discover the secrets of the black magic rituals and ends up finding more than he bargained for.

Finding the source of the gruesome curse

After his return to Hong Kong, he comes to learn that, because of his inquisitiveness, multiple spells have been placed on him by a powerful magician cultured in the black arts. Now believing what he had previously discounted as wild superstition, Wong seeks the aid of a monk proficient in white magic. Having battled the evil wizard before, the monk travels to Hong Kong for a final showdown of good versus evil.

Kuei Chi Hung directs this excellent horror tale that's in part, a spooky character piece punctuated by some gruesome scenes of gore, and a morality play about the dangers of promiscuity. This is still first and foremost an exploitation film, and among the many nasty bits are two elaborately staged duels between the monk and Magusu, the evil wizard. The first one is a staggeringly surreal 10 minute stand off between the magus and the necromancer. It's filled with ghoulishly creative back and forth exchanges of various magical counter moves including a nasty one in which Magusu drinks a bowl of blood poured from a huge urn filled with unborn babies and viscera.

Maggot munching-a mainstay of Asian horror

BEWITCHED (1981) was a hit in Hong Kong and Kuei returned to black magic territory two years later to helm a sequel. Entitled THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983), that film was an exercise in wild depravity and sadism daring itself to top each disgusting scene with another even more deplorable. Whereas BEWITCHED was more story driven focusing on the main characters and the consequences of their actions, the sequel pushes the envelope in what is permissible onscreen.

BEWITCHED is the better movie in terms of filmmaking prowess and story, but THE BOXER'S OMEN is best for its ballsy attitude and ability to shock with one gross-out scene after another. That's not to say BEWITCHED doesn't have its share of sickening and nauseating scenes of gory nastiness, it's just not wholly dependent on such sequences as its phantasmagorical sequel.

Ai Fei and Lily Chen

In addition to Kuei's propensity for sleazy subject matter, he piles on a good amount of nudity here. So much in fact, that it threatens to derail the seriousness of the whole production. One such scene involves Lam and his Thai lovely, Bon. There is a slow motion sequence that seems to go on forever wherein Bon loses her swimsuit top. She runs half naked across the beach, her ample assets bouncing to and fro in a scene that brings to mind Bo Derek's slow motion trek across the sand in 10 (1979).

Ai Fei & the busty Jenny Liang

There's also some choice nudity by exploitation starlet, Jenny Liang who shows off her groceries in a bathtub. We even get to see her fully nude once she steps out of the bath. Jenny Liang was about the closest the Shaws came to replacing former exploitation starlet, Chen Ping, who by this time, had vacated her role as the 'Queen of Asian Exploitation'. Jenny Liang didn't stay in the (s)limelight for very long as she apparently became disenchanted with the increasing number of roles that required her to shed her clothes.

Detective Wong learns the horrors of black magic

Kuei was inarguably the best HK director working in the horror film industry there. He was an acolyte of Chang Cheh and his gritty crime thriller, THE DELINQUENT (1973) was a precursor to his later output of grim and disturbing fantasy pictures. Kuei was an unusually peculiar director with some brutal quirks that emerged while shooting his movies. He would often go to extremes to get the right reaction from his actors. These extremes often times matched the subject matter of whatever movie Kuei was working on. Chang Cheh remarked in his memoirs that Kuei once demanded an actor to eat rotten food to elicit the proper response for a scene. He also at one time refused to allow an actor to go to the emergency room after a failed motorcycle stunt until he caught the complete reaction on camera!

Regardless of his methods, Kuei was an extremely talented filmmaker who failed to capitalize on his success by emigrating to America after Shaw Brothers closed their film production facilities in the mid 80's. The creatively harsh director channeled his curious tendencies in some of the most slimy and uncivilized movies ever to emerge from Hong Kong. Films like THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1973), KILLER SNAKES (1974), CORPSE MANIA (1981) and episodes in THE CRIMINALS series showcase Kuei's penchant for raw and sordid screen violence.

The black sorcerer raises the dead

Kuei also directed (or co-directed) a lot of rare Shaw Brothers movies that have yet to surface such as THE GOURD FAIRY, STRANGER IN HONG KONG (Both 1972), PAYMENT IN BLOOD (1973), VIRGINS OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1974), SPIRIT OF THE RAPED (1976) and CURSE OF EVIL (1982).

The foreshadowing of bad things to come

Frequent supporting actor, Ai Fei (in a rare lead role), plays a swaggering and perpetually horny tourist on vacation in Thailand who meets up with a beautiful Thai girl. Feigning serious interest in her, he manages to steal her virginity before heading back to Hong Kong. Before he leaves, the girl gives him a love necklace to remind him of his imminent return a year later to continue their relationship together; only he has no intention of ever returning. One night while he sleeps, an oily liquid seeps from the necklace that sets off a terrible curse set in motion by the vengeful young Thai woman.

With an evil force taking possession of his young daughter, Lam goes to see a local witch who states his daughter must die, that nothing can save her. Lam then murders his little girl while on a picnic in a vicious sequence where he bashes her over the head with a piece of wood. He then drives a ten inch spike into the top of her head per the request of the mysterious witch woman.

Maggots and vomit-what would HK horror be without them?

This entire section of the film is told in flashback to Detective Wong after Lam is condemned to hang. This plot device sketches the discovery of a reprehensible crime, the investigation and capture of the criminal, and the subsequent flashback detailing the horrible events. This would become a genre mainstay some ten years later when 'Police Procedural Horror' would take HK by storm with the release of the ultra violent, THE UNTOLD STORY (1993). It doesn't end well for Lam, though, as his body begins to sprout many pimple-like sores that ooze a greenish pus. At one point, he is completely wrapped in gauze, his stomach swelled like a balloon. He then pukes up hundreds of maggots before stabbing himself repeatedly in the gut, his huge, bloated belly erupting a thick, viscous substance.

Wong begins his investigation of the bizarre child murder

Melvin Wong turns in a serviceable performance as Detective Wong King Sun. His character is a victim of circumstance. When he makes the jaunt to Thailand, he inadvertently puts his life in danger after the cruel sorcerer places several curses on him and his wife, the reward for his meddling. He usually appeared in martial arts films and seldom ever got a big role like he does here. Wong often portrayed police officers, or that of some other type of civil servant. He studied law in America before joining Shaw Brothers and he spoke fluent English. He seemingly did relatively few movies for Shaws lest there are some that have yet to surface.

Both sides prepare...

Also of note is 'the participation of noted sorcerer Hussin(?) Bin Abu Hassan'(!) No doubt Kuei researched a lot about mystic arts and superstitions as Ho Meng Hua had done prior to this film when he had officially kicked off the 'Black Magic vs. Modern Society' genre with his film, BLACK MAGIC (1975). Here though, Kuei handles the material in a far more serious and unsettling way than Ho's more darkly fantastic, yet disturbing approach to soap opera conventions. Whereas Ho's films explored the dark side of Singapore and Malay folklore, Kuei tackles the mysterious and sorcerous underbelly of Thailand.

...for a magical duel to the death

Li Hsin-Yeh's cinematography captures some amazing Thai monuments and local flavor in addition to some stunning shots of the bustling city. This is countered with numerous shots of visually striking and impressively surreal temples and other constructs giving off a sense of an otherworldy place.

The poster for BEWITCHED is way over the top and promises a lot of bizarre and nutty thrills. What's most interesting is that everything on the poster is actually in the movie, but not in quite the manner presented on its advertising. What's even more curious, is that the poster for the sequel, THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983), masks the zany, totally freakish, and often psychedelically insane movie it promotes.

For a much darker and more grueling experience for those more familiar with Ho Meng Hua's ghoulishly campy BLACK MAGIC films, Kuei Chi Hung's BEWITCHED (1981) is a recommended and highly enjoyable horror romp (for different reasons than its more outlandish sequel). Those that are fans of Asian horror pictures would do well to seek out this tale from the late master of revolting horror from Hong Kong.

This review is representative of the IVL region 3 HK DVD.
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