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  Bewitched Also bothered and bewildered
Year: 1981
Director: Kuei Chi-hung
Stars: Ngaai Fei, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Melvin Wong, Fan Lei, Lily Chan Lee-Lee, Wu Pei-Chin, Choi Gwok-Hing, Wong Siu-Ming, Lee Sau-Kei, Leung Seung-Wan, Chow Kin-Ping, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Hussein Hassan, Lam Wai-Tiu, Chin Chun, Gam Biu, Chan Lap-Ban
Genre: Horror, Sex, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Shaw Brothers cranked out a slew of gross-out horror movies wherein bugs, slime and pus-spurting boils were choice ingredients in sleaze-ball cocktails of soft-core sex and Chinese supernatural lore, from Black Magic (1975) to Seeding of a Ghost (1983). Although he might rather have been remembered for his critically-rated crime-thrillers, Kuei Chi-hung carved quite a niche for himself in this arena of dubious taste and his tabloid style is quite evident here.

Our narrator gravely warns us everything we are about to see is based on fact. “Whether you believe it or not is up to you.” A picnicking family discover the rotting corpse of a six year old girl, after which we cut to the coroner removing a nine-inch spike from her head. Nice. Hong Kong cops led by pipe-smoking Inspector Bobby Wong (Melvin Wong) identify the victim’s father, Stephen Lam Wai (Ngaai Fei) as the killer. At his trial, Stephen maintains he was under the influence of Thai black magic, but is sentenced to death. Meanwhile, an escaped lunatic (Leung Seung-Wan) steals a policeman’s uniform and goes on a rampage across town. Now remember this nut-job because he keeps popping up throughout the story with next to no explanation why…

In prison, Stephen tries desperately to convince Inspector Bobby by recounting his whole, sorry story. On holiday in Thailand with his equally horny pal (the very same lunatic from earlier, who swiftly disappears from this flashback without any explanation for how he wound up crazy), Stephen helps leggy Thai typist Bon Brown (Lily Chan Lee-Lee) when she breaks a heel and winds up back at her place. Not fluent in each other’s native language, the pair converse in painfully fractured English (“Me, big boss! Many, many money!”), wherein the idiot mistakes her for a hooker. He seduces her with tacky jewellery and false promises. She gives him a special pendant so he’ll never forget her. Cue travelogue footage with lots of waterskiing, parachuting and Bon Brown running around the beach with her top off.

Back in Hong Kong, Stephen is dismayed to discover he can no longer get it up, even with assistance from his girlfriend (Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, onetime star of Hong Kong Emmanuelle (1977)). Worse, Bon Brown’s pendant leaks a fluid that won’t rub off (ooh-err, missus) and sprouts goat hair across his chest. Even worse, his little daughter starts eating raw meat and jumping out of cupboards to scare daddy. Have you ever had an six year old do that? It’s terrifying! Stephen consults his local witch (Chan Lap-Ban), who tells him his daughter is demonically-possessed and needs a nine-inch spike driven into her skull. So he does that. See? It’s all perfectly logical.

Inspector Bobby is convinced and the scary supernatural deity he glimpses inside the pendant (a genuinely hair-raising moment) seals the deal. He heads for Thailand, where Bon Brown proves uncooperative, but a group of witchdoctors reveal Stephen is under the “Oil of Carcass Spell.” A flashback shows caped sorcerer Magusu (played, according to the credits, by “renowned Malay sorcerer” Hussein Hassan) raid a Buddhist temple for the corpse of a pregnant woman. He stabs a needle in her foot so she bolts upright and drains green fluid that dribbles from her nostrils. Then boils it with some live worms to create the infected oil behind Stephen’s woes.

Ah, but that’s just one many spells in Magusu’s arsenal. Part-documentary, the next sixty minutes of Bewitched play like a cookery lesson in how to brew various voodoo whammies. You’ve got the “Coffin Spell”, the “Flying Spell”, the “Split-Head Spell” (does exactly what it says on the tin), until eventually Inspector Bobby falls victim to the “Lemon Spell”, which presumably grants him a fresh scent that lasts all day long. Or maybe not. Magusu’s spell-casting seems to always involve ritualistic self-abuse. He gobbles live worms and chicken entrails, slices his fingers, or sits in a bathtub full of his own blood. Harry Potter has it easy by comparison.

In retrospect, Bewitched seems like a dry-run for Kuei Chi-hung’s more infamous follow-up, The Boxer's Omen (1983) which features a similar blend of Taoist, Buddhist and Thai black magic lore, authentically spectacular temples and golden Buddha statues for added atmosphere, and a soundtrack comprised of eerie chants and unsettling invocations. The latter movie restages several scenes to even more delirious effect and simply moves better compared to its sluggish predecessor, which is saddled with an unnecessarily complex story-structure that keeps dumping characters by the wayside.

Drawing from The Exorcist, the chain of freak deaths builds to an intervention from a Buddhist monk (Choi Gwok-Hing). He engages Magusu in a metaphysical battle involving wild psychedelic lighting, sound effects stolen from Flash Gordon (1980) and truly spectacular makeup effects including one character reduced to a pathetic worm-spewing mummy and an incredible body-melting death. As always, though its authenticity may be questionable, the film’s supernatural lore proves fascinating, but is unsatisfying as drama. After we’ve seen a man sprout a mass of exploding boils amidst Hong Kong International Airport, our narrator doles out this closing message: “The moral of this story is to admonish people against casual sex.” There you go, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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