Ho Meng Hua’s “Black Magic” is a cult combination of gore, nudity and slapstick

The script starts with black magician Shan Chien Mi performing a ritual for a woman who wants her adulterer husband and his mistress dead. The spell succeeds but after a while, the magician has to abandon the village he lived in, when a good magician destroys his house.

The story then changes setting and we are introduced to sultry Mrs Zhou, the widow of a construction magnate, who is set on seducing one of her employees, Xu Nuo. He, however, is engaged, and being faithful and honest, resists her aggressive flirting. Mrs Zhou also has a suitor, Liang Chia Chieh, a fortune hunter playboy, who just wants her for her money. When the two of them have a fight, Liang learns from a friend that a black magician living in the forest can help him.

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Liang eventually finds him, but soon discovers that he has received much more than he has bargained for, since the magician is Shan Chien Mi. Furthermore, when Ms Zhou learns of his powers, he also asks for his help, in order to seduce Xu Nuo. With the help of black magic, she succeeds, but Xu Nuo’s bride, Wang Chu Ying, hires a white magician to help her against the combined powers of Mrs Zhou and Shan Chien Mi.

Ho Meng Hua sets the tone from the first frame, that begins with philosopher Zhou Nan’s quote: “Excessive sex could have a similar result as being under spell.” The scene continues with Shan Chien Mi lactating a woman, since apparently this milk is essential for black magic, before he cuts some human meat and boils it along a human head. This scene is emblematic of the film’s style, as sleaziness, gore, nudity, violence, voodoo and sex seem to be everywhere.

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In distinct cult fashion, the pace is quite fast, although a bit nonsensical, as is the rule of CAT III films. However, “Black Magic” is a bit more artistic than the overwhelming majority of the genre, particularly due to Cho Wai Kei’s elaborate cinematography, who takes advantage of both the bucolic and urban setting in Malaysia, in order to present a number of impressive images. The special effects, despite the fact that they show their age (the film was initially released in 1975), they manage to give an epic essence to the movie, particularly during the final fight. Wu Hsu Ching’s make-up also does wonders with the depiction of the transformations of the characters. Chiang Hsing Lung’s editing may be abrupt at times, but perfectly suits the slapstick aesthetics of the picture, while retaining the rhythm. Frankie Chan’s music, that plays almost constantly, perfectly suits  the film, with its combination of tribal and funk, and the same applies to Wang Yong Hua’s sound effects, that stress the combination of slapstick and horror that permeates the film. In all of these aspects, the restoration by 88 Films seems to have done wonders with the production, as it looks and sounds incredible.

The acting is on a very high level, considering the genre. Ti Lung as Xu Nuo does not talk much, but just his presence gives a glamour to the film, that would not be there without him. Lily Li is the perfect femme fatale, appearing sexy and evil at all times. Lo Lieh is also great as Liang Chia Chieh, as he manages to appear utterly despicable every time he is on screen. The one who steals the show though, is Ku Feng as Shan Chien Mi, who portrays perfectly a character that emits evil and sleaziness from his every pore.

“Black Magic” is a definite cult masterpiece, a great sample of CAT III films, and a very entertaining spectacle, particularly for fans of exploitation.

88 Films offers “Black Magic” in an impressive Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack. The edition includes a reversible sleeve featuring Cinema Poster Artwork and a limited edition booklet by Dr Callum Waddell, available for the first 2000 copies. The discs are region B/2, the picture format is HD 1080p 2.35:1 / PAL 2.35:1 and the sound LPCM Mono and Dolby Digital Mono. The edition features English subtitles and Chinese language and English Dub.

The extras include the original trailer and the English Dubbed Soundtrack. 

Overall, the release is great, and since it is the only edition of the film in HD, a must-have for every fan of this Shaw Brothers’ horror classic.

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