Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Blood Sorcery (1986)

On a pitch black night in Burma, two guys, Li (Ying-Chieh Han) and Au Yeung (Hoi-San Kwan), flee from a bunch of torch and arrow-wielding villagers with a jade statue they’ve stolen.  Yeung escapes with the help of the god whose icon he’s pilfered (who is never given a name), but Li isn’t so lucky (though Yeung does get an arrow to the thigh).  Cut to Hong Kong, where Mak Long (Jason Pai Piao) loses his wife due to impotence after some noisy body smooching.  Doctor Au Shau (Alan Chan Gwok Gwong), son of Yeung, comes upon Mak bleeding mysteriously from his leg, and the two discover that they have more in common than they might have expected (namely a certain village in Burma and its vengeful Wizard [Feng Ku]).

Ling Pang’s Blood Sorcery (aka Xiong Zhou) is a supernatural revenge film with enough interesting elements to make it worth a watch, but it’s also enough of a mess to make it largely unsatisfying.  The revenge angle stems from dishonor, both personal and societal.  Yeung stole a statue that had value to the villagers as a symbol of their deity.  It has a spiritual meaning for them, whereas it has only a monetary value to Yeung (something which never comes to fruition anyway, as the statue comes to have a spiritual meaning for Yeung as well).  On the other side, Mak has transgressed against the Wizard in a personal way.  While on leave in Thailand, he visited the Wizard’s bar (they moved from Burma; I don’t know what their livelihood was there), and he met Lina (Git Ling Fung), the Wizard’s daughter.  After a drunken, impassioned evening rolling in the hay (as it were), the two vowed to get married, but Mak got shipped elsewhere and seemed to forget completely about Lina until now when it’s become inconvenient for him.  Not only has the Wizard’s daughter been jilted, but she’s also been left with a bun in the oven, and the whole affair is a source of dishonor for the Wizard and his family.  Despite this, Mak’s intentions were true when he pledged his love for Lina, who begs her father to call off the curse he’s placed on Mak.  Now, most normal people would simply move on and maybe give Mak a sock in the eye if they were to ever see him again, but honor trumps all for the Wizard.  Once it’s lost, it cannot be regained, except through blood.  Similarly, Yeung won’t allow Shau to marry his sweetheart, Shuk Fong (Jo-Jo Ngan), because she has to prove herself to the old man (at least this was what I discerned; maybe you’ll see something different).  The father/child/marriage situations parallel each other.  The Wizard wants Mak to prove himself by being a normal, decent man.  Shuk will have to prove herself by standing with Yeung against the Wizard.  The fantastic needs the ordinary as the ordinary needs the fantastic.

Blood and decay, then, are the symbols of shame, dishonor, and corruption.  Both Yeung and Mak have wounds on their thighs that bleed profusely at any given moment.  Yeung now resides in a wheelchair, we can assume from this wound (and it’s intriguing that Yeung’s initial leg injury was inflicted physically before it became a chronic condition, while Mak’s wound simply appeared as a result of black magic).  His and Mak’s dishonor links them through a very specific condition, and in a very specific bodily location.  The trouble spot on their thighs correlates (maybe just in my mind) to the acupressure point SP-10 or the Sea of Blood (or Xuehai).  This point supposedly invigorates and/or cools the blood (amongst other things).  Therefore, that it is the site of such massive blood loss has some meaning as to how the actions of these men has thrown their bodies and spirits into disarray.  There is also a lot of worm imagery in the film (as there seems to be in most Chinese Horror films).  These worms crawl around and wriggle forth from the leg wounds, swimming in pools of blood, and looking generally very gross.  They are the interior rot of Mak and Yeung’s bodies and souls, being as closely related to corpses as worms are (and they will appear later in the film in that precise role).  Comparably, the Wizard is physically corrupted by the magic he uses to corrupt others.  When performing a ritual against his enemies, his hair suddenly becomes long and white, and he sprouts large fangs.  He literally becomes a monstrosity when doing monstrous things.  By that thinking, neither victims nor revenger have any claim to a moral superiority.  They are equals sunk to their lowest levels.

Though Yeung, Mak, and certainly the Wizard believe in magic, Shau doesn’t (or doesn’t want to), so he tries to find scientific methods of treating Mak.  It’s the classic science versus the supernatural trope of many movies dealing with magic, yet here it doesn’t play as one might expect (or maybe it does).  Outside of watching Mak hemorrhage blood and worms, Shau makes no real effort to get to the root of the issue (the answers basically fall in his lap) and no real headway in curing it once he does discover the condition’s source.  Shau is ineffectual in the face of magic, thus he is ineffectual as a hero.  Shuk, a nurse at the same hospital, crosses the divide between the natural and the supernatural.  In an inversely proportional way, Lina mirrors Shuk.  Lina’s desire is to become a mundane wife, to move away from magic.  The two women cross paths headed in opposite directions.
Blood Sorcery is a difficult film to follow (completely not helped along by very literal subtitles), but we’ve seen this before in genre films from Hong Kong, so it’s not only expected, but it’s also part of the charm (or at the very, very least it’s not a complete deterrent).  Scenes stop abruptly in mid-action with no resolution before being thrown into the next inexplicable scenario.  The characters are flat and uninteresting.  The reason to watch the film is to see how wild it gets with its visuals and situations.  By that measuring stick, I’d say it makes it a little past average.  You won’t see anything here you haven’t seen before, done better, or done more coherently.  I guess in that way, it’s a lot like porn, huh?  And like porn, it does its function well enough.

MVT:  The more colorful images (both gross out and mystical) are the entirety of this film’s existence.

Make or Break:  The sight of the first ball of worms squirming in blood soup.  Too sickening for some, not sickening enough for others.

Score:  5.5/10   

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