In the midst of their creative output, the Shaw Brothers studio was working on all cylinders offering films of all manner of genres, and by the 1980s they managed to start exploring with a mixture of such genres. While certainly not the first effort to do so, ‘Bloody Parrot’ finds the studio bringing together their two signature styles in wuxia-style martial arts with gross-out black magic horror into a potent and delirious blend.
Legend has it the mysterious Bloody Parrot appears on Earth during the Devil King’s birthday and will grant the finder three wishes. This causes numerous adventurers, including Yeh Ting-feng (Jason Pai Piao, from “Killer Constable”) into the search for it, as he initially teams with Constable Tieh Han (Tony Liu, from “Clan of Amazons”) to track it down. This journey leads them to Pei Yu (Jenny Liang, from “Bewitched”) who works as a prostitute at a bordello that holds a key to the situation. She tells them of the treasure guarded by the Bloody Parrot during its last appearance on Earth and enlists them to help stop a mad sorcerer who plans to use the treasure to rule her kingdom. Beset by an army of fellow adventurers searching for the fabled creature, as well as their own perilous nature of their traveling arrangement, they set out to stop the real culprits from carrying through with their plan.
This is certainly quite an enjoyable and fun black magic effort. One of the better elements found here is the fact that the film manages to work in plenty of fun from its two main components. Still being produced during the height of the studio’s wuxia phase, there’s a marvelous amount of fighting and swordplay throughout here. From the opening massacre of the family to the fight with the henchmen in the tavern and the series of side-battles he engages in to prove his mettle while in the village, there’s some great choreography from Hsu Hsia to showcase a lot of short-yet-stellar martial arts sequences. While it never goes to the extremes in letting the performers really engage in lengthy sequences to showcase their skills, the continuous nature of the fights makes for a great time to be had, since it descends into a fight quite frequently. This is greatly enhanced in the final half where it has several big brawls which are exceptionally fun, from her dismantling a troop of ninjas singlehandedly or the fine brawl inside the mansion to really give this some nice fighting.
As well, the horror segments here are cleverly woven into the surroundings to give a demented tone. This manages to end up featuring all manner of grotesque images and concepts. From the gruesome autopsy that reveals a jewel inside a maggot-riddled body, to a graphic possession that results in plenty of bloodshed and body mutilation, these highlight the chaotic turn the wizard has over people. Even more, the mystery angle about the mysterious needles found throughout the course of the film which is what leads to the main witch. That plot sets up the big selling point in the numerous amounts of spellcasting this one partakes in. By showing everything that’s needed to be prepared for the spell to work, the different outcomes are shown in graphic detail. There’s an air of suspense in the fog-enshrouded graveyards, hints of mysticism with the strange pit full of creatures and with the finale underneath the compound, there’s plenty of strong horror elements to be worked over here.
For the most part, the cast isn’t too bad. Regular Shaw hero Jason Pai Piao is his usual stoic self as Yeh Ting-feng. He fights often and has some nice stuntwork during these moments, yet doesn’t do much beyond that. His normal acting range doesn’t have a wide variety of reactions or emotions but the silent hero works nicely overall here. The fine work of Tony Liu as Constable ‘Invincible Fist’ Tieh Han gives the film some nice bit of weight here. Performing his usual tough guy patrol officer that carries a recognizable air of authority during his scenes, the fact that he never takes an apparent side until the end is quite nice in order to keep audience interest throughout. The cast is also graced by the presence of regular Hong Kong exploitation starlet Jenny Liang as Pei-yu, the owner of a brothel in the middle of the journey. Granted a series of spectacular full nude scenes including the opportunity to see her in full glory during a striptease in a hall of mirrors, she radiates her icy cool sexiness throughout and remains one of the memorable ladies to grace the genre’s screen.
Unfortunately, that results in one of the few minor issues to be had with the film. It never goes as far as it can go in either genre which is pretty problematic here. The kung-fu fighting is lively and dynamic but it never goes for the proper elongated fight that filled so many of these efforts. There’s only one fight scene at the end that crosses over several minutes which comes from the main fight between Pai Piao and the other two wizards, so there’s a lower level tier to the fighting here that wasn’t apparent in their other efforts. Likewise, the horror is fun but doesn’t move into the extremity that other films had gone. The wizard sequences setting up the spellcasting are basically run-of-the-mill sequences that are nowhere near the intensity or gross-out nature of previous Shaw Brothers films. ‘Bloody Parrot’ is certainly watchable on both accounts yet doesn’t reach the levels of insanity others attempt.
The other problematic issue with this one is the fact that there’s no real sense at all to the story. People tend to show up and do things simply because, and it’s incredibly disruptive to the film as a whole since barely anything gets explained. We never learn anything about the titular parrot, what it does, where it came from or what its purpose is. The mere fact that people have used its power over the decades is all we get with this one, and that’s basically it, which is a major disappointment. Likewise, the fact that there’s no real purpose to the fighting between the different clans gives this a disjointed and confusing manner in the worst of ways with barely any kind of point other than to inject action into it. Finely directed and exciting action, but there’s not much coherence to the story.
One of the finer if not necessarily most immediate entries in the Hong Kong black magic cycle, ‘Bloody Parrot’ has a lot to like if taken at face value. It doesn’t wallow in the gross-out extremes that the others go to which makes it a fine starter effort to test the waters of the genre for beginners, and although it is genuinely entertaining on its own more experienced genre aficionados might be tasked with this one.