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  Demoness from 1000 Years Fame or Evil?
Year: 1990
Director: Cheng Wing-Chiu
Stars: Joey Wong, Jacky Cheung, Gloria Yip, Meg Lam, Andy Hui, Tiffany Lau Yuk-Ting, Si-Ma Yin, Hsiao Ho, Ku Feng, Law Ching-Ho
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Romance, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sticklers for good grammar will note that title really ought to read as Demoness from a 1000 Years Ago, but this Hong Kong fantasy upholds a noble tradition of English-mangling monikers along with such examples as Magic of Spell (1988) and Deadful Melody (1994). We begin in ancient China where garbled narration informs us: “the pursuit of fame led men to lose their honesty in pursuit of evil.” So which is it they’re pursuing, then: fame or evil? In this instance Evil happens to have a physical incarnation (Meg Lam, former star of sexploitationer Bald-Headed Betty (1975) and future Hong Kong news anchor!) glimpsed in the midst of a cel animated effects duel with a wise Taoist master (Ku Feng). Before expiring, the old master entrusts this film’s mystical Macguffin, the Bead of Hell, to beautiful fairy sisters Yun Yuk Yi (Joey Wong) and Siu Yi (Gloria Yip, for once not playing a child but someone her own age). With Evil hot on her heels, Yun Yuk Yi flies into the future in the hope of finding this film’s other mystical Macguffin, the Heaven’s Sun Bead, which when united with the Bead of Hell will spend the end of the demoness.

One thousand years later, playboy cop Mambo (Jacky Cheung) - sadly, his surname isn’t Italiano - is in a stand-off with triad thugs when a gale force wind heralds the arrival of the good fairy and dubious demoness in modern times. Both ladies head straight for the nearest boutique. Hey, the fate of the world might be up for grabs, but good or evil a lady’s got to keep up with the latest trends. A quick-change later, Evil goes underground to prey on hapless single men alone on the streets after dark, while Yun Yuk Yi catches up with Mambo. Our hero can’t believe his luck when this hot babe invites herself into his apartment, but Yun Yuk Yi is actually intrigued by the mark on Mambo’s arm that seems to ward off Evil. Unfortunately, Mambo’s partner (Andy Hui) fancies himself an amateur Taoist. When he informs his master (Hsiao Ho) about Mambo’s magical girlfriend, the pair reach the wrong conclusion and perform an exorcism on the wrong woman.

Although Joey Wong eventually got to show her acting range with choice roles in My Heart Is That Eternal Rose (1989) and Green Snake (1993) she spent the greater part of her career typecast as a lovelorn lady ghost in line with her iconic role in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). By the early Nineties, the avalanche of ACGS rip-offs veered into self-parody. It seems every cult film subgenre follows the same cycle, going from innovative original to shameless imitation, cross-pollination with another genre, then eventually self-parody. Movies like this along with the equally substandard Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic (1991) were the Chinese Ghost story equivalent of Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 1972, bringing classical archetypes into a contemporary setting for the sake of cheap gimmickry and even cheaper laughs.

Reunited with Cantopop idol Jacky Cheung, her co-star in the infinitely superior A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990), Joey Wong is more animated here than she would be in Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic, evidently enjoying the chance to play comedy though the humour rarely rises above mildly amusing. After a strong start, the film gets bogged down in sappy romantic montages scored by Jacky’s treacly ballads as he and Joey cavort around HK’s picturesque tourists spots and shopping malls, acting cute. Rather too much screen time is also allotted to the would-be comic antics of Mambo’s wacky police colleagues, including flirty Yin (Tiffany Lau Tuk-Ying) who harbours a hopeless crush on him. It is strange the film goes down this route given the spectacular cinematography and eye-catching optical effects ensure the few fantasy sequences are actually quite exciting. The sight of Joey Wong flying across a modern HK skyline carries a genuine frisson. Director Cheng Wing-Chiu, whose only other films include gangster thriller The Roar of the Vietnamese (1991) and the self-explanatory The Mystery of the Big Boobs (1993), seemingly gives up on the threadbare fantasy plotline and dwells on the comedy and romance to the point where all but the most ardent HK fantasy fans will have given up. Those who persevere may well relish the plot’s completely out-of-leftfield lurch into outright horror as the demoness literally rips through the entire cast before Gloria Yip rejoins the action for one final mystical cat-fight. Given how innocuous the film has been up to this point, the ambiguous coda proves quite intriguing. Joey Wong and Jacky Cheung re-teamed yet again for the no-less-derivative but more rewarding, A Chinese Legend (1992).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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