Prolific pulp author Ngai Hong created Wai Si Lei, the scholar, adventurer and expert on all things supernatural whose exploits spawned a film genre unto itself. Over the years he’s been played by many actors, with a bewildering array of variations on his name: Sam Hui in Legend of Wisely (1987), Waise Lee (no relation) in The Cat (1992), Andy Lau in The Wesley’s Mysterious File (2002). Yet the character’s definitive portrayal was the very first: Chow Yun-Fat, channelling Peter Cushing’s pipe-puffing authority in The Seventh Curse. This jaw-dropping, supernatural horror/kung fu/action/cannibal/splatter/softcore hybrid is one of the most amazing Hong Kong movies ever made.
A tuxedo-clad, Ngai Hong provides the intro. Sipping Courvoisier poolside, while elegant ladies hang on his every word, he recounts the bizarre adventure that befell his good friend, Dr. Yuan (Chin Siu-ho). A breathtaking bullet-fest sees the dashing doc and nosy reporter, Tsai-Hung (Maggie Cheung) help police foil a terrorist plot at a local hospital. All in a day’s work. Playboy Yuan heads home for some sweet loving with his gwailo girlfriend, but in the ultimate coitus interruptus, mysterious tribal warrior, Heh Lung (Dick Wei) swings in through an open window, warning his “blood curse” is set to relapse. Sure enough, a huge boil swells on Yuan’s leg and explodes in a mess of pus and blood. “Keep away from sex”, advises Lung, before he disappears. Bummer.
In desperation, Yuan visits super-suave, all-knowing Wisely (Chow Yun-Fat) and his kindly sister (Sibelle Hu). Flashbacks reveal Yuan joined a jungle expedition into darkest Thailand led by a crusty, British professor (Ken Boyle - the mad monk from Jackie Chan’s Armour of God (1986)). The team stumble across the evil Worm Tribe: so nasty they chuck screaming kiddies in a giant grinder to produce a juicy pulp. This horrid concoction sustains “Little Ghost” - a flying alien killer foetus, resembling a glove-puppet designed by H.R. Geiger - that rips into victims and chomps through their torsos. Local beauty, Betsy (Tsui Sau-lai) was about to be sacrificed to “Old Ancestor”, a flesh-eating, kung fu skeleton with a mighty, morphing ace up its sleeve, until Yuan rescues her, inadvertently dooming his party as they’re hunted and killed, one by one, Cannibal Holocaust style. Yuan is captured and force fed magic bullets that sporadically burst from his body. The last bullet will reach his heart and kill him. He’s saved by Betsy, who slices a benign tumour off one of her breasts and feeds it to him, but this unorthodox cure lasts only one year.
Determined to rescue the local children and find the “sacred grains” that will cure Yuan’s affliction, Wisely leads his gang back to Thailand where they re-encounter Heh Lung - still searching for Betty, his fiancee - and more surprisingly, Tsai-Hung. She turns out to be a millionaire’s daughter and finances their private war in return for the inside scoop! Dodging crazed arms-dealers, murderous tribesman, and black magic spells slung by mad sorcerer Aquala (Elvis Tsui), Yuan and Lung discover an enormous subterranean Buddha statue with the sacred grains stored in its eyes. There follows a dizzying kung fu battle atop said statue, topped by a showdown with Aquala and Old Ancestor. The skeleton transforms into a rubbery, slime-drenched Godzilla clone/flapping bat monster that sucks out spinal cords, until Wisely’s show-stopping arrival with some handy, heavy artillery.
The Seventh Curse has everything: gunplay, Indiana Jones-style adventure set pieces, jungle warfare straight out of Apocalypse Now (1979) with Wisely inexplicably commanding his own private army, Hammer horror thrills with witchcraft and monsters, plus enough maggots, gore and slime to put Lucio Fulci in the shade. You want acrobatic kung fu monks atop a stone Buddha? Check. Maggie Cheung in a wet t-shirt? Enjoy. Chow Yun-Fat wielding a rocket launcher against a hideous demon-god? You better believe it. The film taps into Hong Kong city slickers’ far-fetched ideas about wild, untamed Thailand, much like Europeans project horror fantasies onto Transylvania. Unlike Hollywood exploitation efforts, this slick, Golden Harvest production comes swathed in a galaxy of Big Name Stars. Aside from the headliners you get martial arts diva Kara Hui Ying Hung, filmmakers Wong Jing (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Chu Yuan, karate legend Yasuaki Kurota, Derek Yee, and Nina Li Chi.
Though his appearance is more like an extended cameo, Chow Yun-Fat rules the movie as Wisely. Fusing Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, he’s the kind of guy well versed in jungle survival, can diagnose strange curses at a glance, and trap evil spirits in a net made of ghost placentas. Director Nam Nai Choi (working under the pseudonym: Lan Wei Tsang) became a specialist in such wild and crazy fare, with Peacock King (1988), Erotic Ghost Story (1990), and The Story of Ricky (1991) on his resume. He revisited Wisely territory in The Cat (1992), but only The Seventh Curse features classic lines like: “The worms are highly prolific” and “Take my advice or I’ll spank you without pants.” Regardless, this is prime Hong Kong horror.