Of the many Hong Kong horror pictures made by the Shaw Brothers
during the seventies, BLACK MAGIC is far from the best, even if it is
the best known. It actually plays like a warm-up to the wilder and more
provocative Shaw horror fests that followed in its wake.
Meng Hua Ho (1923-2009) was one of Hong Kongís most
prolific exploitation movie director. In a career that spanned several
decades, he crafted classic Asian exploiters like THE FLYING GUILLOTINE
(1975), THE MIGHTY
PEKING MAN (1977) and THE RAPE AFTER (1986). BLACK MAGIC
(JIANG TOU), made in 1975, was like many of Mengís films made for the
legendary Shaw Brothers, and their imprint is evident in BLACK MAGICíS
fast pacing and exploitive content. It was popular enough that it
inspired a 1976 sequel
that many commentators (myself included) believe far outdoes its
In a jungle located on the outskirts of Hong Kong, an
evil magician uses black magic to fulfill a womanís desire to kill her
philandering husband and his mistress. The act precipitates a minor war
with a rival magician who practices ďwhiteĒ magic.
Following the magic skirmish (which essentially ends in
a draw) a man from the city contacts the black magician in an effort to
make a rich bitch fall in love with him. It works, but the spell only
lasts one night, after which the bitch discovers her loverís subterfuge.
She reacts by bribing the guy to bring the magician to her; she has her
eye on a man, and is looking to make him fall in love with her. Never
mind that heís engaged to another woman!
Making the wish come true involves yanking a lock of
the manís hair from his head and digging up a corpse. The cadaverís
drool is mixed with the bitchís breast milk to form a vile concoction
the object of the womanís affections will have to drink. This he does,
at his own wedding reception, and promptly falls for the bitch. But
thereís a further complication: the black magician contacted by the
woman is now infatuated with her!
The magician puts spells on both the bitch and her
loverís wife, in the form of writhing worms under the womanís skin. This
is just the start of an all-out magic war that incorporates psychic
rays, centipedes, stormy weather and melted flesh.
This film, like most Shaw Brothers productions from the
seventies, looks good and moves fast. Lensed in colorful widescreen
photography, itís fun to watch, even if the many seventies conventions
director Meng Hua Ho adheres to--particularly his abuse of the zoom
lens--date the film.
BLACK MAGIC memorably follows the Shaw thrill-a-minute
aesthetic with its lighting paced procession of action and sleaze.
Still, the film is far outdone in this aspect by later Shaw productions
like BLACK MAGIC 2 and SEEDING OF A GHOST. What BLACK MAGIC has in its
favor is a strong and compelling, if quite complicated, surprise-filled
narrative that holds oneís interest. Thatís definitely a rarity
for a Hong Kong product!
Keep in mind, however, that no matter how much praise I
may lavish on this film, itís still really, really stupid. The
acting is broad and hysterical to an annoying degree, and the special
effects are hardly special: indeed, by the end (in which a ridiculous
animated chamber turns up) they grow downright ludicrous.
Director: Meng Hua Ho
Producer: Runme Shaw
Screenplay: Hong Ngai
Cinematography: Hui-chi Tsao
Editing: Hsing-lung Chiang
Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ni Tien, Lily Li, Feng Ku, Ping Chen, Dana, Wen
Chung Ku, Wei Tu Lin, Hua Yueh