At the skull laden entrance to a spooky cave a band of chanting Buddhist monks confront the ancient evil known as Twiggy. No, not the Swinging Sixties icon-turned-Marks & Spencer’s ad stalwart. This particular Twiggy (Mondi Yau Yuet-Ching) is a hideous demon that morphs into a sultrier form after she rips out the head monk’s heart. Only the arrival of the Golden Buddha subdues the demon while she awaits the birth of the so-called Devil Child who will open the door of evil. So goes the story a wise Taoist Priestess tells a little girl called Mandy shortly before they rescue the innocent baby from an enchanted cave. The child is named Tracy and Mandy vows to protect her foster sister at all costs.
Eighteen years later, Mandy (Sharla Cheung Man) has grown into a beautiful swordswoman who surfs on a flying sword in a swirl of cel-animated stars, following the no-less lovely Tracy (Vivian Chow) on her journey to her arranged marriage. For reasons of his own however, the bridegroom Liu Chun (Ngai Jan) doesn’t want to marry a beautiful girl with magical powers and runs away. Which proves a bit of a problem given unless Tracy loses her virginity soon, she is predestined to unleash an apocalypse that will destroy the world. Talk about sexual frustration...
The Eighties and Nineties yielded such a treasure trove of Hong Kong fantasy films that some remarkable efforts fell through the cracks. Such was the case with Devil’s Vendetta which despite being a work of delirious imagination and technical virtuosity, never gained the kind of cult following enjoyed by the likes of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) and Mr. Vampire (1985). In fact the film is indebted to both and attempts to combine these two hit franchises as the plot reveals the real reason Liu Chun does not want to get married. It turns out his life’s ambition is to study Taoist magic and he gets his chance after helping Taoist priest Master Yau Tsu Nam (Stanley Fung Sui-Fan) vanquish a hideous giant cockroach disguised as yet another tantalising temptress. Thereafter, Master Yau enrols Liu Chun at his Taoist school where the all-male students - including comedian Billy Lau, as obnoxious here as he is in the Mr. Vampire movies - who, between honing their skills reanimating a bunch of hopping child vampires, spend most of their time ogling the comely female Taoists in the temple next door, including (you guessed it) Tracy and Mandy, plus their adorable pigtailed friend Yin (Si-Ma Yin).
What follows is a fair amount of crass comedy that slows things down somewhat but which does have an underlining satirical point as Liu Chun discovers there is no moral distinction between the physical world he deplores and the spirtual world he so admires. His fellow students are all greedy, self-aggrandising, inept, lecherous goons. In fact they are far less accomplished monster fighters than the ladies, yet persist in sexually harassing them even in the midst of a demonic attack. Although Billy Lau’s horny oaf gets his comeuppance when an angry ghost transforms him into a woman (whereupon he is shagged and impregnated before awakening from this most un-PC nightmare!), our poor heroine Mandy draws the short straw as far as love interests go as she is courted by the considerably older Master Yau. “We’re a perfect match just like George and Barbara Bush, or Charles and Diana!” he yelps unconvincingly.
Things get back on track with the return of the demon Twiggy, whereupon near-psychedelic set-pieces build towards a Zen Buddhist finale of mind-bending intensity. Unusually for a fantasy-horror film from this period, the plot revolves around two strong heroines rather than star-crossed lovers, featuring charismatic performances from Valerie Chow and especially Sharla Cheung Man. After an early career as a regular co-star opposite comedy giant Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Cheung Man became a staple of female-oriented fantasy flicks including Swordsman (1990), Demi Gods and Semi Devils (1994), Legend of Liquid Sword (1993) and many more. Having written one of her earliest vehicles, The Stand-In (1987), the actress branched into producing and directing, including the romantic drama The Sound of Colours (2006) and swordplay fantasy Big Shot (2006).
Devil’s Vendetta (whose title actually reads: Devil’s Vindatta) was one of only three films directed by Cheung Hoi-Ching, the others being the wu xia epic Sword Stained with Royal Blood (1993) and more recently science fiction thriller Virtual Recall (2010). On the strength of his ability to combine spectacular special effects, extravagant sets, heady flights of fancy and bad taste comedy with superbly frenetic fight sequences, one wishes he was more prolific.