BlackMagicOf the many Hong Kong horror pictures made by the Shaw Brothers during the seventies, BLACK MAGIC is far from the best, even if it is the best known. It actually plays like a warm-up to the wilder and more provocative Shaw horror fests that followed in its wake.

Meng Hua Ho (1923-2009) was one of Hong Kong’s most prolific exploitation movie director. In a career that spanned several decades, he crafted classic Asian exploiters like THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1975), THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) and THE RAPE AFTER (1986). BLACK MAGIC (JIANG TOU), made in 1975, was like many of Meng’s films made for the legendary Shaw Brothers, and their imprint is evident in BLACK MAGIC’S fast pacing and exploitive content. It was popular enough that it inspired a 1976 sequel that many commentators (myself included) believe far outdoes its predecessor.

In a jungle located on the outskirts of Hong Kong, an evil magician uses black magic to fulfill a woman’s desire to kill her philandering husband and his mistress. The act precipitates a minor war with a rival magician who practices “white” magic.

Following the magic skirmish (which essentially ends in a draw) a man from the city contacts the black magician in an effort to make a rich bitch fall in love with him. It works, but the spell only lasts one night, after which the bitch discovers her lover’s subterfuge. She reacts by bribing the guy to bring the magician to her; she has her eye on a man, and is looking to make him fall in love with her. Never mind that he’s engaged to another woman!

Making the wish come true involves yanking a lock of the man’s hair from his head and digging up a corpse. The cadaver’s drool is mixed with the bitch’s breast milk to form a vile concoction the object of the woman’s affections will have to drink. This he does, at his own wedding reception, and promptly falls for the bitch. But there’s a further complication: the black magician contacted by the woman is now infatuated with her!

The magician puts spells on both the bitch and her lover’s wife, in the form of writhing worms under the woman’s skin. This is just the start of an all-out magic war that incorporates psychic rays, centipedes, stormy weather and melted flesh.

This film, like most Shaw Brothers productions from the seventies, looks good and moves fast. Lensed in colorful widescreen photography, it’s fun to watch, even if the many seventies conventions director Meng Hua Ho adheres to–particularly his abuse of the zoom lens—date the film.

BLACK MAGIC memorably follows the Shaw thrill-a-minute aesthetic with its lighting paced procession of action and sleaze. Still, the film is far outdone in this aspect by later Shaw productions like BLACK MAGIC 2 and SEEDING OF A GHOST. What BLACK MAGIC has in its favor is a strong and compelling, if quite complicated, surprise-filled narrative that holds one’s interest. That’s definitely a rarity for a Hong Kong product!

Keep in mind, however, that no matter how much praise I may lavish on this film, it’s still really, really stupid. The acting is broad and hysterical to an annoying degree, and the special effects are hardly special: indeed, by the end (in which a ridiculous animated chamber turns up) they grow downright ludicrous.

Vital Statistics

Shaw Brothers

Director: Meng Hua Ho
Producer: Runme Shaw
Screenplay: Hong Ngai
Cinematography: Hui-chi Tsao
Editing: Hsing-lung Chiang
Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ni Tien, Lily Li, Feng Ku, Ping Chen, Dana, Wen Chung Ku, Wei Tu Lin, Hua Yueh