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October 19, 2011

Cave of Silken Web

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Pan si dong
Meng Hua-Ho - 1967
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

The premise sounds like some kind of horror movie. Seven spider demons plan to kidnap and eat the flesh of a Buddhist monk as it promises immortality. As it turns out, the film is a musical fantasy, and the demons resemble showgirls, albeit showgirls with swords. And that's perfectly fine.

The film also is a reminder of the charm of old fashioned special effects. Anybody with even a Super 8 camera can make people appear and disappear at will. Peter Sellers even made fun of this camera trick in The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, referring to it as a cheap cinematic trick. And it does get confusing when several characters exchange places with each other, or pretend to be someone else, but it's hardly the kind of movie that requires close concentration to enjoy.

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Taking a little bit more suspension of disbelief is that there are actors portraying a pig and a monkey. I have to assume that because these talking animals look almost human, that they are inspired by similar characters from Chinese theater. This is no ordinary monkey, but a monkey king, who has powerful magic and great martial arts skills. More disconcerting is that when the spider demon women are in animal form, they resemble beetles, not spiders.

The spider demons are shown at their most spidery in the very beginning when waving multiple arms, kind of like Hindu deities. They are easily identified by their almost monochromatic costumes. Between the spider demons and their attendants, it's obvious that the Shaw Brothers had a lot of cute women under contract. Most notable is Angela Yu Chien as the seductive third sister, briefly seen "nude" against one of the oversized spider webs. The film is much like a spider web for that matter, pretty in its own unique and sometimes intricate way, and finally ephemeral.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 19, 2011 08:50 AM