I wrote in an earlier review that “true Asian cinema buffs know the wildest fare comes not from Hong Kong but from Japan.” That’s not to dismiss Hong Kong horror flicks; the “wildest fare” may indeed come from Japan, but there are nevertheless some HK films that give PINOCCHIO 964 and THE BLIND BEAST a serious run for their money. The 1983 Shaw Brothers production THE BOXER’S OMEN is one of them.
THE BOXER’S OMEN is a product of Hong Kong’s legendary producer-siblings Run Run and Run Me Shaw. Best known for Kung Fu fare like FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH and THE SHAOLIN MASTER KILLER, the Shaws (now sadly retired) also gave us wonderful (if little known) exploitation fare like ENTER THE SEVEN VIRGINS, BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS and BRUCE LEE AND I, as well as some eye-opening horror flicks: the phenomenally influential BLACK MAGIC trilogy, SEEDING OF A GHOST, and of course THE BOXER’S OMEN (a.k.a. MO).
Anyone familiar with the particulars, established by the BLACK MAGIC flicks, of Hong Kong horror cinema (see THE RAPE AFTER, CENTIPEDE HORROR, BRUTAL SORCERY, RED SPELL SPELLS RED and countless others) will recognize the obscure Buddhist incantations, eel barfing, rampaging monsters and bodies dissolving into masses of insects that populate THE BOXER’S OMEN. But the fact is you’ll have a difficult time finding such a mind-roasting mélange of rapid-fire insanity anywhere in or outside Hong Kong. The only real comparisons are the outrageous films of Alejandro Jodorowski (like EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN)—yes, it’s that weird!
It involves a boxer getting involved with a Buddhist sorcerer while looking to avenge the murder of his brother; in the process our hero learns he’s the reincarnation of a sorcerer whose evil rival remains in action, looking to settle his own ages-old score. That’s a VERY broad summation of a story so sprawling, convoluted and plain crazy it nearly defies description. Rather than going into particulars, I’ll simply describe some of the film’s more striking elements.
A seemingly normal guy gets waylaid at an airport by a Buddhist master who takes the guy’s soul, in the form of a bat, and melts it down to a collection of bones. The master’s evil rival promptly reforms the bat’s skeleton, which is stomped to pieces as it tries to hobble out of its resting-place. The evil master retaliates by gathering a number of spiders together, has them drink snake venom through tiny straws, and unleashes them to bite his enemy to death.
Then there’s the evil spirit resurrected by stuffing a corpse’s mouth with regurgitated food and sewing the body into the skin of an alligator. And the sacred text that literally flows from the hero’s body in a magical battle of wills. Other weapons include disembodied hands, snapping animal skulls and eyeballs atop hairy stalks that shoot deadly beams of light. And so on.
The best that can be said about the direction by Chin Hung Kuei, a Shaw Brothers regular who also made the aforementioned BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS and ENTER THE SEVEN VIRGINS, is that the action is kept fast and lurid. As usual for a Shaw production, exploitation is the name of the game, and Chin never misses a chance to insert a brutal boxing match or gratuitous sex scene. Audacity is another of the film’s virtues, with innumerable low-budget special effects shot mercilessly from every conceivable angle. Coherency and restraint are two casualties of Chin’s anything-for-a-thrill filmmaking; it’s best to simply sit back and let the film’s relentless barrage of hallucinatory imagery assault you—and not think too much about it!
THE BOXER’S OMEN (a.k.a. MO)
Shaw Brothers Productions
Director: Chin Hung Kuei
Producers: Mona Fong, Ka Hee Wong
Screenplay: An Situ
Cinematography: Huiqi Cao, Xingye Li, Yunkun Lin
Cast: Phillip Cao, Xiaoyen Lin, Lung Wei Wang, Jiawen Wei, Bolo Yeung