Humble groundskeeper Chen Fu (Kwan Yung-Moon) returns home only to be brutally slain along with his family by a gang of eccentric thugs - who include a muscleman with a mohawk, an albino swordsman and an offensive gay caricature - led by Hong Da-Wai (Chan Sing), an outwardly respectable government official. All because Fu dared harbour feelings for Master Hong's lovely, lute-strumming daughter (Doris Lung Chun-Erh). From beyond the grave Fu's vengeful spirit possesses peaceful woodcutter Lee Yao (Alan Lau), using him to commit a string of murders. Gradually Fu goes from righteous revenge to abusing the innocent. This prompts an array of would-be ghost busters to intervene including a wacky Taoist Master, two phony priests, and a mysterious, ferociously skilled tattooed lady exorcist in dreadlocks and a fur leotard who takes Fu on in a supernatural showdown.
Directed by the aptly-named Lucifer Lai Wen-Hsiang, in what was evidently his lone directing credit, Evil Hits Evil (also known as Three Dark Spirits) is a Taiwanese horror film very much in the post-Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) style. Sammo Hung's trailblazing mix of frenetic kung fu action, knockabout comedy and atmospheric Asian horror set the template for Eastern genre fare throughout the Eighties into the early Nineties. Here however the blend is not quite as seamless. Largely because the plot lacks a clear focal point and proves so nihilistic the comedy, much of it centred on a henpecked night watchman (Woo Dai-Wai), simply does not gel.
On the positive side striking cinematography and creepy production design lends key scenes a remarkably eerie and unsettling vibe: e.g. the thugs' torture and humiliation of a captive family (with grueling staging that evokes many an American Seventies grindhouse film), Hong’s daughter's discovery of the demon's lair bathed in Dario Argento style oversaturated reds straight out of Suspiria (1977), strobe-lit "ghost rape" sequence seemingly inspired by The Entity (1982), and a crowd-pleasing climax that somehow merges acrobatic kung fu action, glowing skulls, flying furniture and paper spells, wild pyrotechnic effects and a scantily-clad heroine levitating in mid-air whilst doing the splits. Lai Wen-Hsiang also indulges in three-hundred-and-sixty degree rotating camera moves anticipating the Sam Raimi-influenced Hong Kong new wave ghost movies.
The film also has the benefit of an eclectic cast including Korean martial artist Kwan Yung-Moon. Famed for the reckless physicality that earned him the, frankly unimaginative, nickname of "the Mad Korean", he growls and grimaces but proves an unsympathetic protagonist. Similarly gifted physically cult actor-action choreographer-filmmaker Robert Tai essays another of his many eccentric roles as the Taoist Master. In fact some sources credit the film's direction to Tai. Possibly because it deals in a similar vein of weirdness common to his work. That is hard to verify. What is known is that Korean director Nam Gi-nam, an uncredited co-director on several Taiwanese productions including New Fist of Fury (1976), The Clones of Bruce Lee (1978) and Ninja in the Dragon's Den (1982), contributed additional scenes featuring South Korean actors.
Evil Hits Evil is also notable as one of the last films featuring the beautiful but troubled martial arts star Doris Lung Chun-Erh. She was sadly as well known for her multiple suicide attempts as her fan-favourite movies (among many classics she graced Shaolin Wooden Men (1976) and Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (1978) with Jackie Chan and Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) opposite Jimmy Wang Yu). As Hong’s saintly daughter Doris gets a lot less to do here than she did in her Seventies kung fu heyday. She mostly just stands around looking winsome while playing the lute. Given her allegedly unstable nature this may have been a deliberate choice by the filmmakers. Nevertheless her character represents the lone beacon of goodness caught between two pillars of evil in Chen Fu's ghost and her dastardly dad. Yet tellingly her fate proves as grim as that of everyone else in a film that, as implied by its title, is relentlessly downbeat in a manner that renders it less fun than other kung fu horror comedies from this era.