The advent of the Category III rating system was an ultimate blessing for Hong Kong filmmakers as this freed he studios and filmmakers to truly explore the outer limits of their creativity to the fullest. Among the first to fully take advantage of the style was Kuei Chih-hung, who had already explored similar topics in the decade previous with other Hong Kong horror and action films but also ‘Gu’ (or Bewitched) before delivering his magnum opus in the style and the genre with this stellar endurance test of black magic and sorcery.
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After his brother is crippled in the ring, Chan Hung (Phillip Ko, from “Shaolin Intruders”) vows vengeance on the guilty party, boxer Ba Bo (Bolo Yueng, from “Enter the Dragon”) which leads him down a dark spiral in the Thai underworld. Learning that he was connected to a monk that was attempting to gain immortality, he trains at the monk’s monastery to grow his powers to defeat the man’s rival, (Elvis Tsui, from “Shaolin Prince”) also attempting to gain immortality. As the two become locked in a deadly battle of black magic and sorcery, it takes all of Chan’s resources to save the day for the good monk.
Frankly, this is easily one of the finest examples of the genre around. One of the brightest spots of the film is the need to relay over-the-top examples of black magic and sorcery. The film wastes no time at all detailing the kind of wild and extravagant sorcery-based tricks to be expected here. From casting spells that turn a person into a bat, reviving animal skeletons to be controlled hypnotically and utilizing hosts of creatures to do his bidding, the type of power evident here is readily apparent from the start. This all happens within the first half-hour of the film and it only grows throughout the rest of the running time.
A large part of this is due to just utterly disturbing and gross-out material. The idea of conjuring up spells that require people to spit up blood, piercing eyeballs with needles and finding mummified corpses sealed gigantic urns gives this a start to the sort of madness presented here. Not even scenes featuring him vomiting up live eels are enough to settle on one of the most disgusting sequences ever featured. This is the celebrated reincarnation sequence wherein the dead wizard is brought back to life by his servants. After capturing and killing a crocodile, the creature is gutted and it’s inner organs removed so the mummified body can be placed inside and sewn up. When the maggot-riddled corpse is removed and washed out, the disciples eat a mixture of raw chicken parts, grub and banana peels and regurgitating it to pass onto the next person who mixes their food with the regurgitated slop before finally feeding the body. It’s only at this point that the body is revived as a fully nude woman.
Beyond the gross-outs, the film works in other areas. The martial arts fighting, as is to be expected from a Shaw Brothers film, is quite enjoyable. Getting Bolo Yueng and Wang Lun Wai together in a fight at the very beginning gives an idea of the brutality to be expected throughout here with it’s hard-hitting action. The return battle between Bolo and Phillip Ko is also rather brutal and hard-hitting as it’s mixed alongside the reanimation sequence which may or may not effect the outcome of their brawl. Likewise, there’s also an exceptional attention to detail about the different forms of sorcery here. There’s obviously great care to accomplish the transformation or spell-casting scenes with accuracy and detail, allowing for shining examples of both good and black magic. Examining the tribulations Hung goes through in order to be accepted into the monastery is a fine example, while the wizards’ manipulation of various liquids and animal parts for his calculating spells gives this a great contrast.
Even better are the massively entertaining and enjoyable battles the two endure throughout the movie. From animating bats and crocodile heads to battle each other and relying on conjuring protective fields of self-defence, the battle gets off to a stellar start. That soon degenerates into a duel with a floating head and using the dangling veins beneath it to launch another offensive attack. The final battle that takes place inside the temple is where this one really picks up by offering a slew of impressive scenes. Utilizing the guardian statues to attack him before the demon wizard arrives and starts attacking which results in the resurrection of the monks’ spirit from the main statue, this whole sequence is a well-spring of creative and visual imagination that offers a rousing fantasy-driven conclusion. There’s plenty of stellar special effects throughout the sequence, and the range of styles makes for an exceptionally fun viewing.
The Boxer’s Omen has a ton of elements to like about it and remains one of the finest in the genre for a reason. About the only flaw here is the subject matter which won’t attract too many to it, making this one recommended viewing to any fan of Hong Kong black magic or Asian exploitation cinema, while those not attracted to it will definitely want to try a different entry to get acclimated to the subject matter first.