Fans of Kuei Chih Hung's Killer Snakes, which was one of the early efforts of the Hongkong New Wave, will love his other film, Hex. Here, he takes a stab at horror and gives it his masterly sense of atmosphere and subtlety. Stephen Tan reviews.

 

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

When it comes to that marriage between horror and erotica, Ho Meng-hua's Black Magic (1975) still remains a highwater mark for Shaw. Tanny Tien Ni, centipedes, the "victim's" hair (with the roots attached); cut-off finger; foot prints (in the mud), breast milk and "rice-pussy" were some of the key ingredients that made the movie so unforgettable.

Five years on and here, Tien Ni teams up with director Kuei Chih Hung, whose Killer Snakes (1974) gave the Shaw movie a bite of the New Wave apple. The sickly Tien Ni is the last of a line of rich merchants and, to preserve the family name, it is Wong Yung who marries into her family. As the story goes, the family has now fallen on hard times and, while not abusing his wife, Wong is out getting drunk or spending his time gambling and visiting prostitutes. His beatings drive away their current maid but Chen Szu-chia, the daughter of a former maid, drops by to visit and decides to stay and help out with the housework.

During one of his spurts of rage, Wong rapes Chen. Later on, in another incident, the two women, in a fit of anger, drowns Wong and dumps his body in the town lake. When the lake is drained, no body can be found and Tien Ni soon finds herself haunted by her husband's ghost, and is killed during one of these hauntings.


 

It is then revealed that Wong and Chen had faked his death so that the two can frighten Tien Ni. Life seems rosy at first for Wong and Chen, the latter is now the mistress of the house, but when some workers try to get rid of some old furniture, they are stopped by (the ghost of) Tien Ni.

Soon, Wong and Chen find themselves being haunted and, one night, Wong falls to his death. To placate Tien Ni's spirit, Chen hires medium Chan Laap Ban (a veteran actress who is more familiar in comedies). The exorcism involves Chen's body painted with scriptures (a-la Kwaidan) and the medium's assistant doing an erotic dance in the nude. If Kwaidan shows only a character's head painted with sacred words, here, Kuei ups the ante giving lots of shots of the medium writing on Chen's nude body. It is not known if this nudity and the subsequent exorcist dance are part of the film's original script but they will certainly pique viewer's interest, not that the film isn't intriguing enough on its own. This is also the only part of the film that has any nudity and the local Videovan VCD has the entire nude scripture writing and exorcist dance sequence censored.

The film, which has successfully spawned two follow-ups - Hex Versus Witchcraft and Hex After Hex, is generally atmospheric and, while it is littered with a number of red herrings, has the looks and trimmings of a decent horror movie. The scene of a caretaker at the "mortuary" hailing the return of the souls of the recently departed is spooky and fans have commented on the internet the effectiveness of the foggy (indoor) lake scene.


 

As such films are wont to do, the exorcism isn't enough and Tien Ni's ghost appears behind Chen and, as in the Japanese classic, pulls off Chen's ears. Midway through the film, alert viewers might have spotted a Diabolique twist in the tale that gives Hex its muted ending. Watching the film, a viewer cannot help but ponder on the number of wasted lives here. In the first place, it is quite unlikely a modern man would marry a woman and adopts her surname. Even if that happens, the couple can both file for divorce and be done with each other.

As the film shows, the need to continue one's family line only exacerbated one's greed; led to wasted lives and, ultimately, seems like an exercise in futility (it never did produce the desired heir).

Note: The Hex DVD is not available in $ingapore.

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