Goo chak sam fong fong (2003)

Directed by Soi Cheang [Other horror films: Hung bou yit sin ji Dai tao gwai ying (2001), Hyn huet ching nin (2002), Gwai muk (2005)]

Known as The Death Curse in English, Goo chak sam fong fong is a somewhat forgettable horror/comedy experience from Hong Kong. The movie isn’t completely without merit, but it’s certainly not an Asian film that I’d count anywhere near among the best they have to offer.

There’s a few issues when talking about this one. Plot-wise, children of a recently-dead man come together for a reunion of sorts (in order to get their inheritance), which is all good and well, but the problem is that there’s eight of them. Well, seven, because one couldn’t be located (as soon as this was mentioned, I logged it in mind as something that was likely to come up later), but even so, it got a bit confusing trying to remember who’s who, especially when most of the children were similar-looking men.

Another issue, unavoidable in some circumstances when watching foreign films, was the captions here. The translations were, at times, rather iffy, and I somewhat suspect the version I saw wasn’t necessarily an official English release of the movie. I definitely prefer subtitles over dubbing, and I followed most of the conversations fine (despite the really odd syntax throughout), but I thought it was worth mentioning regardless.

Only two cast-members made that much an impression on me, three if I’m stretching it. Charlene Choi played Nancy, a somewhat annoying and bratty young woman, though she had some funny lines at times, and got better as the movie went on. Alex Fong played the family’s lawyer, and I loved this guy for his very lawyery, serious demeanor. He just had a style to him which I very much appreciated. The stretch addition is Lawrence Chou. His character starts out rather pathetically, but he sort of grows into an impressive individual.

The comedy here is about what you would expect. A lot of it doesn’t really work that well, and it somewhat made the finale here (which was actually somewhat decent) quite a bit more difficult to take seriously. A lot of the ideas here were interesting, but the comedy didn’t really add that much in my view, but I don’t think it overall ruined the film or anything so extreme.

Goo chak sam fong fong (I have to admit, that’s fun to write, for some reason) isn’t an Asian film that’s all that great, or even good. It’s competent, and it gets the job done, but as much as I enjoyed aspects of the finale, ultimately, The Death Curse was unremarkable, maybe good for one go, but not much more.

6/10

Shan gou 1999 (1999)

Deadly Camp

Directed by Bowie Lau [Other horror films: Sha ren du jia wu (2000), Xue tai huan gu (2004)]

This Hong Kong film has been on my radar for a long time now. Ever since I heard “late 1990’s Asian slasher,” I jumped. In the years following, I’ve been keeping a lookout for it, should I happen to have the chance to see it. Now that I have, I’m a bit disappointed, but not necessarily surprised.

Unlike what you might think, this has far more in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than it does Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and other slashers that kick started the genre back up in the late 1990’s. In this film, a group of people get hunted down by a guy with a chainsaw on a supposedly deserted island. With a plot like that, what can go wrong?

The biggest problem, I think, is the fact that there’s too much group dynamic drama and not enough killing. When it got to the kills themselves, there were pretty decent. Nothing too gory, but some solid knifings, chainsaw action, and a fun bamboo trap. But a lot of that doesn’t happen until forty or so minutes in. The characters aren’t entirely uninteresting, but they’re not why I wanted to see this film.

What also hurts is the music choice the film goes with. A lot of the background music sounds like stuff you’d hear in a 90’s romantic movie. It just seemed entirely an odd choice for a slasher coming out just a few months before 2000. If it was once or twice, that could be forgiven, but it’s not.

The Deadly Camp, as this film is known in the USA, is okay. But if it weren’t for the fact that it’s from Hong Kong, I don’t think I’d have been nearly as interested in seeing this as I have been. The design of the antagonist was acceptable, and the kill scenes were mostly good, but nothing else really worked (including many of the actors, most of whom just seemed there). Not something I’d go out of my way to see again or even recommend.

6/10

Man hua qi xia (1990)

A Tales from the East

Directed by Manfred Wong [Other horror films: N/A]

Sometimes known under the title A Tale from the East, this rather obscure Hong Kong fantasy/horror/comedy film was all kinds of odd. Was it enjoyable? To an extent, yes, but it’s not a film I’d recommend you take that much time to locate unless it’s already your type of thing.

The film feels really, really goofy at times, a lot of it due to the characters played by Eric Kot and Jan Lamb. They even sing this utterly bizarre song about the prices of food, for some reason. Note – this film isn’t a musical, so that song, the only one in the film, came out of nowhere. Again, it’s a goofy, silly movie.

When it does lean more toward dread, it does an okay job. A sequence near the beginning had the demonic Blood Devil (who is after a magic pearl) going after people in a dark house, which was welcomed. It was somewhat hard to take seriously, though, because the kung fu action in the film was just so unrealistic. The jumping alone was entirely laughable (but yes, entertaining also).

So a lot of these actors were goofy (not just Kot and Lamb, but also Billy Lau), but there were some gems in here too. Joey Wang was rather beautiful at times, and I loved her go-getter attitude. David Wu did a great job playing an out-of-place bodyguard (there’s also time travel inherent in the film, which was interesting). Wu’s fights against Blood Demon were utterly ridiculous, but I guess that’s where a lot of the fun from these types of movies comes from.

Let’s take a second out to talk about a technical aspect of the video I watched. The subtitles, which I’m entirely grateful for having, were atrociously done. So the text appeared over the ongoing movie, which is fine, but when white text is shown over white clothing, it became about impossible to read. It didn’t happen enough for me to lose focus of what was going on, but it was definitely both noticeable and annoying. Again, with as seemingly obscure as this film is, it may be the best subtitled version out there, but at the same time, it seemed an unwise design choice.

A Tale from the East (as it’s known here, I guess, though I’ve also seen this just called Tale from the East) isn’t really a movie I can accurately put into words. It’s bizarre at points, goofy at points, and pretty amusing at points. I do wish that the horror elements were used more than the comedy or action, but there’s still something to be found for fans of the genre. As it is, this movie is one that I would recommend to fans of 80’s and 90’s Asian horror, but otherwise, this Hong Kong flick might not do it for you.

6.5/10

Yin ji (1982)

Kung Fu

Directed by Chiu Lee [Other horror films: N/A]

Probably best known under the colorful title Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave, Yin ji is decently fun, though perhaps ends up being a bit longer than necessary. Still, the movie ends up around average, I’d say.

The story was simple and to the point, with not much really going on. A son seeks revenge for his father against a tyrant who rules with the help of a black magic sorcerer. There’s plenty of zombies/ghosts (technically, I guess they’d be jiangshi, or hopping vampires), dark magic (with beautifully ridiculous effects), and even an appearance from Count Dracula (who apparently knows kung fu).

The movie’s about as ridiculous and entertaining as you could probably imagine. The multiple fight sequences are all pretty fun, and there’s even a few creepy graveyard scenes (though the lighter tone the movie has doesn’t make tension or thrills the main point).

As far as the cast goes, there were mostly all solid, with the main character, played by Billy Chong, being the one most standing out. The over-the-top acting and kung fu sequences were all done well, though, so pretty much no one in the film was particularly bad. The somewhat atrocious dubbing helped also.

I’ve not seen that many kung fu films. Of the ones I can name (with the help of trusty IMDb), I’ve seen The Deadly Breaking Sword (or Feng liu duan jian xiao xiao dao, from 1979), Killer Constable (or Wan ren zan, from 1980), The Kid with the Golden Arm (Jin bi tong, from 1979), and, if you want to count it, The Sword of Swords (Shen dao, from 1968). I’ve seen some actual Hong Kong horror films, but none that have mixed in martial arts as heavily as this one.

Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave is pretty goofy at times, and it’s more light-hearted fun than anything really terrifying. It probably could have been cut by ten minutes, perhaps fifteen, and I think they could have given off the same effect. But it is a fun movie, so they certainly got that down. If you’re into this type of Asian horror, it may be worth a look.

7/10