GONG TAU is a throwback to Hong Kong horror cinema of the 1970s and early 80s, as well as the notorious category III (i.e. adults only) action movies of the 1990s—many of which were helmed by Herman Yau. GONG TAU won’t ever replace HK classics like BLACK MAGIC, THE BOXER’S OMEN or the abovementioned UNTOLD STORY in anyone’s affections, but it’s good to see this type of fare making a comeback amid the wasteland of modern Hong Kong cinema.
Several cops are involved in an elaborate sting operation that is thwarted by a man practicing black magic. The would-be magician, an ugly, pockmarked freak who works as a bartender in a titty bar, causes a dead animal to appear in the gas tank of a police officer and telepathically kills the officer’s baby. When examined by a coroner the baby’s corpse is literally devoured by fast moving maggots.
Haunted by the death of his child, the cop, a tough guy named Cheung, soldiers on amid an increasingly bizarre succession of events. There’s an unexplained suicide, a worm-ridden corpse is found in a trash can, and Cheung’s wife’s eyes unexpectedly turn blood red. Cheung finally concedes that he and his wife are victims of a black magic curse, and drags her to a local sorcerer in an effort to make things right.
The sorcerer, an old guy living in a rural shack, attempts to reverse the effects of the spell by taking on the black magician—who’s not in the same location—in a telepathic battle of oriental magic. In the process Cheung’s wife vomits up a torrent of centipedes and the black magician becomes a Krasue—i.e. an individual whose head leaves its body and floats around with the innards attached.
This does nothing to stop the madness—far from it, in fact. Things get so bad that Cheung is forced to take matters into his own hands in a final black magic showdown, during which his superior officer is shot, his wife goes mad and his adversary, in the form of a floating head that talks, finally reveals why he has it in for Cheung.
Viewing this film will be a nostalgic experience for old school Asian horror buffs. All the arcane sorcery, insect barfing and flying head madness integral to such films are on display here. There’s also some sentimental drama (the death of the protagonist’s baby is played straight), but, given the quality (or lack thereof) of the performances, it’s best to concentrate on the genre elements.
Be advised that the film is an adults only affair, with oodles of bloodletting and full frontal nudity (male and female). The gore is pretty extreme, but the play-doh quality of the special effects keeps the shock value in check.
Speaking of special effects, there’s much CGI, which wasn’t a part of the old movies this one references, and lessens its impact considerably. The overly show-offy steadicam visuals and ADD-addled music video editing are further irritants. The film is slick, yes, but I’m not sure slickness is what this material needs.
Still, GONG TAU is a welcome anomaly in modern Hong Kong cinema, and even if it isn’t the genre watershed it was cracked up to be, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
GONG TAU: AN ORIENTAL BLACK MAGIC
China Star Entertainment
Director: Herman Yau
Producers: Dennis Law, Herman Yau
Screenplay: Herman Yau, Chun-Yue Lam
Cinematography: Jose Chan
Editing: Azreal Chung
Cast: Mark Cheng, Maggie Siu, Suet Lam, Tak-bun Wong, Yu Gu, Siu Hung Hui, Pauline Yam, Jay Lau, Hak On Fung