Spurned woman turns to oriental black magic to get back at her man - a game plan Kuei Chih-hung devises in Bewitched which becomes a successful formula in the corpse-and-maggot-infested horror genre. Stephen Tan reviews.


Buoyed by the success of 1981's Bewitched, director Kuei Chih-hung returned to the gong tau (oriential black magic) genre in 1983 with his magnum opus, The Boxer's Omen. Kuei is certainly no stranger to the corpse-and-maggot-infested genre, he also made Corpse Mania, Hex and Killer Snakes.

In making Bewitched, Kuei also laid down a formula which can still be seen in Herman Yau's Gong Tau (2007). A young man from Hong Kong goes whoring in South-east Asia, with the likely destinations being Malaysia and Thailand. While Indonesia is seldom included in the circuit, word is that Indonesian jampi (magic) is equally powerful.

Said young man meets a usually voluptuous local girl; have wild sex [sex scenes often include the girl running topless/naked on the beach in slow motion]; more sex - this time in the bathtub and/or in bed; man leaves girl [after she manages to pull a bunch of his hair as souvenir] and girl places charm [using the hair] on the man for breaking his promise to return. The second half of the movie is devoted to how the spell works on the victim and the attempts to counter the spell.

In Bewitched, single parent Ai Fei is found guilty of killing his young daughter by driving a long nail into her head. In prison he recounts to inspector Melvin Wong Gam San his trip to Thailand and his meeting with a local girl. Flashback to those naked breasts on the beach and some dallying in the surf. Back in Hong Kong, Ai Fei finds he can't get it up with a woman, either in the bathtub or in bed [cue to more "attempted" sex and nudity].

And when she is not glaring at him, his daughter is seen eating raw meat from the fridge. Ai Fei also imagines his daughter stabbing him with a knife. In the meantime, the love locket given to him by the Thai girl oozes out a dark liquid which results in the growth of a massive amount of chest hair. Seeking the help of a local medium, Ai Fei realises he has to kill his daughter if he is to remain "safe."

To understand his predicament, Ai Fei asks Inspector Wong to get to the bottom of this charm business. In Thailand, the sceptical inspector visits a medium and is told to look for a Buddhist monk. The first battle does not defeat the evil sorceror but it leaves the monk exhausted. During the battle, to replenish his strength, the black sorceror drinks from a jar containing animal/human entrails and the body of a dead baby. When Wong returns to Hong Kong, the evil sorcerer follows in pursuit and places several charms on the policeman.

While logic is thrown out of the window early on [which sane parent would kill his or her daughter just because she glares at him or eats raw meat at midnight?], the less frenetic pace (as compared to The Boxer's Omen) allows each and every spell to be carefully teased out and presented.

While the sex and nudity are just eye candy, the spells, usually yucky and nauseating, are part of the film's highlights. For example, to cast the Carcass Oil Spell, the sorceror must first extract oil from the carcass of a pregnant woman by burning the cadaver's chin with a candle. [This spell is re-used in Gong Tau, with Lam Suet the hapless victim.] Hair from the victim, wrapped in a paper with the victim's name and date of birth, is burnt and the ashes mixed in a mixture of carcass oil, centipede, lizard and a generous helping of live maggots. The result is deadly hallucinations and uncommon chest hair growth.

The quaintly-named Lemon Spell involves cockerel's blood and snake's gall. Pins dipped in the mixture are inserted into a lemon, which is then buried in the road. Any time someone steps on the ground above it, the victim experiences extreme chest pains.

While the spells do not include such exotic ingredients such as breast milk or sperm, they are still intriguing, such as the Coffin Spell (featuring miniature coffins) or the Maggot Spell, the Raising Demon Child Spell or the Death Spell.

The evil magician, Magusu, is played by "renowned Malay sorcerer Hussin bin Abu Hassan" though it is not known if he remained in the movies after Bewitched. While the film is partly set in Thailand, it's a bit disconcerting for local viewers to find the characters speaking Malay, with the spells chanted in Malay as well [granted many southern Thais do speak Malay]. Meanwhile, the music is appropriately Thai while the tourist-sy shots indicate Bangkok.

As such films are wont to do, good always triumphs over evil though the final showdown between the evil sorceror and the monk is a bit of a letdown after what has gone before, and is nothing quite like the over-the-top confrontation featuring a flying head in The Boxer's Omen. Catching Magusu at the airport [don't ask how], the monk throws a "golden petal" (a magical amulet) at the sorceror. The amulet works its magic and the sorceror decays into an old hag before dying, releasing a bat-like creature in the process, which is easily captured by the monk.

As maggot-infested gore cinema, Bewitched would have been great if not for the film's biggest faux pas - the advisory at the end warning audiences against free sex and the dangers of black magic. There is this hilarious intimitation that all South-east Asian girls are only interested in shacking up with promising Hongkongers and that when disappointed, they will resort to black magic to get their revenge. Funny how times have changed when many Hongkongers left the former British colony between 1989 (after Tiananmen Square) and 1997 for South-east Asia.

Note: The Bewitched DVD (IVL/Celestial) is banned in $ingapore.

For more... email mybigo@bigozine.com with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."

December 18, 2007


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Yumeko's Nightmare
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