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  Satan Returns Dial 666 for Information
Year: 1996
Director: Lam Wai-Lun, Wong Jing
Stars: Chingamy Yau, Donnie Yen, Francis Ng, Dayo Wong, Kingdom Yuen King-Tan, Spencer Lam, Mark Wai-Cheung, Ivy Leung Si-Man, Lee Lik-Chi, Wayne Lai, Cheung Lau, Chan Chi-Man, Lam Kwok-Git
Genre: Horror, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Ominous groans accompany scenes of Hong Kong street life. A mysterious man checks into apartment room 666. Its dingy decor seemingly done by Anton LaVey: satanic murals, flickering candles, an upside down crucifix, and a fridge full of internal organs. Shortly thereafter stock broker Lulu (Cheung Lau) receives a phone call informing her she may be the devil's daughter (presumably with a free entry in this month's satanic sweepstakes?). Her midnight meeting with madman Judas (Francis Ng) climaxes with a co-worker crushed inside a phone booth and poor Lulu spirited into the darkness. Elsewhere, comely police psychologist Chan Shou Ching (Chingamy Yau) is plagued by nightmares about her long-lost father and the serial killer crucifying Lulu; while her nympho roommate Rose (Kingdom Yuen King-Tan) is busy getting it on with klutzy cop boyfriend Ka Ming (comedian Dayo Wong).

While on a coffee date the girls stumble into the midst of a shootout between Triad gunmen and bespectacled kung fu cop Nam (Donnie Yen), during which Ching rescues a little girl. Afterwards they happen upon Lulu's crucified corpse in a back alley. Seems Judas is killing girls born on the 6th of June, 1969, convinced one of them is the spawn of Satan. Ching's knowledge of Christian theology leads to her being teamed with Nam and Ka Ming to crack the case. But with Judas stalking her, amidst a host of hallucinations, Ching starts to suspect she might be the woman he is looking for.

Satan Returns (billed as Satan's Return in some countries) was yet another vehicle concocted by legendary screenwriter/co-director/schlock producer Wong Jing for his then-girlfriend, sexploitation starlet Chingamy Yau; most infamous being Naked Killer (1992). Perennially undervalued by curmudgeonly HK film fanatics, Yau actually had a measure of charisma and talent to go with her obvious allure, and trades primarily on those strengths here. Obviously indebted to that most iconic of Nineties serial killer thrillers, Seven (1995), co-director Lam Wai-Lun mimics that patented David Fincher style: dingy interiors, shafts of light or strobe effects, blue and amber gels, billowing plastic sheets through which the killer erupts for a steadfast shock.

Marked by traces of MTV flashiness that marred so many Seven rip-offs, the swooping camerawork is entirely Wai-Luns own and produces a fair amount of unsettling images to enhance Francis Ng's creepy turn. A fine scene has Judas freak out his cop captors with visions of their hellish past and future. Interestingly, the idea of a demonically-possessed serial killer foreshadows Hollywood's own attempt at a Seven cash-in: the lacklustre Fallen (1998).

Uniquely in horror cinema, this posits Christianity as an exotic and arcane faith that requires Ching and an amusingly foul-mouthed priest (Spencer Lam) to explain religious references to the clueless cops. It flirts with an intriguing question, namely can the Devil influence a society that has nary a concept of his existence, but soon drops the idea, throwing in a host of spear-wielding cultists so fight choreographer Donnie Yen can bust some wushu moves, and the usual Wong Jing tomfoolery: wisecracks about Seven and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), references to frequent leading man Leon Lai, and perpetually horny Ka Ming - so stupid he tries to pick up a prostitute in the midst of a stakeout.

Although a dead woman springs to life on the autopsy table and Ka Ming accidentally kisses a skinless corpse, this still rates as an atypically restrained Wong Jing production, exhibiting a tighter, more controlled filmic style. Later the plot abandons all pretence at being a Seven rip-off and amps up the supernatural content, wherein a possessed Ching (transformed into Yau's more familiarly seductive screen persona) tries to seduce Ka Ming and exerts mind-control over a wife-beating cop before the makers spring the old When a Stranger Calls (1979) gambit wherein a killer phones from inside the house. An action packed finale crams in zombie cops (who beat Ka Ming with their own severed arms), Donnie Yen going crazy with a nail-gun and chainsaw, Chingamy Yau crucified in flowing white, and a spectacular Christian-themed comeuppance for Ng's bad guy. Only an unnecessarily jokey ending lets things down.

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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