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October 01, 2009

Black Magic

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Jiang tou
Ho Meng-Hua - 1975
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Black Magic is one of the few examples of the Shaw Brothers forays into horror. What may open a few eyes is actually the erotic content, with a fairly generous amount of nudity. What makes the film of interest are the various elements that one does not usually associate with the film company primarily known for its martial arts movies.

The black magic is seems to be similar to voodoo, with effigies, chickens, potions designed to make people fall in love, desecrated graves, and unintelligible chants. We are introduced to Master Shan who is hired by the spurned wife to create a death spell on her adulterous husband and his young mistress. Shan does his work with two dolls sized effigies, a female and one well endowed male, and a handful of long, sharp needles. A rival magician casts a spell that almost spells doom for Shan who disappears into a river.

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Xu and Quming are a young couple in love. Xu's boss, the attractive young widow, Luo Yin, is in love with Xu. Sleazebag Liang is in love with Luo Yin. Luo Yin is so rich that she lives in a large mansion and drives an expensive sports car. What her money can't buy is Xu, or clothes that don't reveal visible panty lines. Liang hires Shan to cast a spell on Luo Yin, which works, but just for one night. Luo Yin pays Liang to introduce her to Shan, so he can cast a spell on Xu. Shan promises a spell that will work for one year as long as Luo Yin comes up with the money. As shown in an earlier scene, one of the fringe benefits of being a magician is to order attractive female clients to get naked, so it's no surprise that Shan has interests in Luo Yin that extend beyond the professional.

The cast is made up of Shaw Brothers contract players such as Ti Lung, Lily Li and Lo Lieh. This is the first film I've seen directed by Ho Meng-hua. Aside from the film being a shift in genres, what was unexpected was the use of electronically generated sounds as part of the soundtrack. The special effects used some of the same kind of time lapse photography used in old Universal horror movies, with faces melting into dust, and some colored bolts that rival magicians use against each other that looked cheaper than anything seen in a lesser science fiction film from Toho Studios. It should also be noted that while the film was made with Hong Kong talent, the shooting location was Malaysia. Part of it may have been to take advantage of a more wild environment than available in Hong Kong, but I suspect the filmmakers would consider contemporary Hong Kong too sophisticated a place to have practitioners of magic or those who believe in their spells. Most of the magic on screen belongs to Ku Feng as the evil magician. Whether threatening a potential victim, or leering at a female he hopes to seduce, it's never a subtle performance, but, like a good movie villains, Ku is the most fun to watch. Not only does Ku ham it up with his skull and sorcery, but he gets two racy scenes, one with the gorgeous Tien Ni. In the other scene, Ku cooks up one of his potions using a unique recipe to create a very unique version of that Asian staple, sticky rice.

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Posted by peter at October 1, 2009 12:17 AM