Sometimes you come across a film so weird, so bafflingly over-the-top in execution, that you can't help but love it no matter how bad it is.
Recently I saw a completely crazy Chinese adventure film from the Eighties (starring Chow Yun-Fat and Maggie Cheung, no less) and the above certainly applies here. Think of an Indiana Jones film with martial arts, nudity, excessive gore and no sensibilities whatsoever. Or sense, for that matter.
So this week I present seven reasons to love Ngai Kai Lam's "Yuan Zhen-Xia yu Wei Si-Li", better known as "The Seventh Curse"!
Instead of just diving into the list, I realize the items on it will be ever so much more funny if you know the context. So here is what, for all intents and purposes, functions as context.
As an an answer to the renewed popularity for American old-style adventure movies in the Eighties (a trend which started with "Raiders of the Lost Ark"), Hong-Kong produced a few of these on their own, adding their typical frantic style and disregard for a regular narrative. Three of these films had the character Wisely in them, a contemporary adventurer-hero from a series of stories by writer Ni Kuang.
Funnily enough Wisely was played by different actors in each of the films. The second of these was "The Seventh Curse", released in 1985, and this time the Wisely role went to (ta-ta-TAAAA) Chow Yun-Fat. Director was Lam Ngai-Kai who would later go on to make similarly barmy but entertaining movies like "Erotic Ghost Story" and of course "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky".
Told as a huge flashback by writer Ni Kuang himself, "The Seventh Curse" tells about the tale of dashing doctor Yuen (played by Chin Siu-Hou) who suddenly develops a most curious disease: every day, a blood vessel somewhere in his body start to bulge and burst. His friend Wisely recognizes this as a particularly vicious Thai blood curse.
In what must be the biggest flashback-within-a-flashback in history (even beating "D-War" in this regard) Yuen then recounts how he indeed visited Thailand a year earlier with a group of scientists to find a cure against AIDS. Instead, his group encountered a tribe of Chinese people living in the Thai jungle who worshipped a vampiric mummy of sorts called "Ancient Ancestor". Yuen also had a chance encounter with local bathing beauty Betsy (a VERY healthy-looking Tsui Sau-Lai). When Betsy was about to get offered to "Ancient Ancestor", Yuen got a bit too dashing and rescued her, resulting in the whole research team being tortured and killed by the tribe's evil high priest Aquala (played by squeeky-voiced Elvis Tsui). Only Betsy and Yuen escaped but got cursed by Aquala, although Betsy managed to block Yuen's curse for a year.
Now that year has passed, and Yuen and Wisely must go to Thailand in a hurry and try to revoke the curse somehow. For on the seventh day, Yuen's largest blood vessel will explode and kill him. They are followed by Wisely's niece Tsai-Hung (Maggie Cheung!), a tenacious reporter who thinks she's found the scoop of the year.
OK, so far so good, seems like a valid story for some good old aventuring, right? But in the hands of Lam Ngai-Kai things tend to get weird fast. Everybody is acting hysterically, and most of the deaths are directly attributable to the heroes themselves without them ever being held accountable for it. The film is unabashedly sexist and exploitative wherever given the chance. The plot rushes from setpiece to setpiece without any sense or logic, and even Michael Bay will marvel at the liberties the filmmakers have taken for themselves here.
All in all it's impossible to say that "The Seventh Curse" is even close to being a good movie, but it's also impossible to deny its value as a crazy rollercoaster ride. Parts of it will be surprisingly well-made. Utterly daft and superfluous fight sequences are choreographed with flair, creature effects are a lot better than expected and completely practical in nature.
The DVD I own is of dismayingly low quality, but I have watched and rewatched it several times over. Here is the list of what makes "The Seventh Curse" so very watchable.
Note: most of these points are accompanied by pictures in the gallery. This includes point 3 so watch out who is behind you.
1: There is a skeleton in the movie who does kung-fu and changes into Giger's ALIEN whenever it starts to lose.
The "Ancient Ancestor" worshiped by the tribe is one mean bastard. Creeping from his coffin as a skeleton with glowing eyes, his bad condition doesn't stop him from going full fisticuffs against anyone who opposes him. The moment people start to realize that (superstrength or not) "Ancient Ancestor" is actually lightweight enough to toss a safe distance away, he starts to play dirty.
Using an extended transformation sequence (strangely reminiscent of "An American Werewolf in London", believe it or not), the skeleton turns into a monster which looks like a bastard child between a flying dinosaur and Giger's famous "Alien" design. This creature is capable of surviving staggering amounts of damage, including being shot full in the chest with a rocket launcher (see gallery).
2: There is an evil sorcerer who grinds a hundred children to a bloody pulp in order to create a flying demon-fetus.
Because of his high giggle Aquala is about the least frightening villain in the world despite the incredibly EVIL things he does. He has a vile bag of tricks including an ointment that turns you into a bag of squirming maggots in seconds, but his most impressive magic is the conjuring of the "Little Ghost". This hideous razortoothed flying baby eats his way right through whoever he's been sicked on, upping the gore factor considerably.
3: There is a ridiculously shameless wet t-shirt moment which gets the multi-angle treatment as if it was a Jackie Chan stunt.
Fan-service Shman-service: even my wife could laugh at this joke of a scene. Truth be told, if there is one woman in the movie who you'd want to see naked it's Tsui Sau-Lai. She looks nothing less than glorious here, and Lam Ngai-Kai made optimal use of the scenery. He might not have gotten away with a full frontal nudity shot, but Betsy's slow-motion emergence from the lake, clad in nothing but a flimsy white shirt (and obviously bottomless) would probably get her banned for a couple of years these days...
Note that the gallery picture is not a screenshot but shows one of the film's lobby cards. Yup, I can imagine this getting asses in seats!
4: There is a very young Maggie Cheung in this film.
Not only that, but she gets fun stuff to do too. Nothing of that fancy acting we know and love her for: here you can watch her machinegunning Thai gangsters, bathing in blood, kicking an evil sorcerer in the family jewels, smugly disarming boobytraps (the smugness seems somewhat inappropriate considering how many innocent people lie around her dying because they were less able than she is). Her role can be summed up as being very irritating on purpose.
5: Chow Yun-Fat is Wisely and wise.
How can anyone possibly be so cool in such a lame role? Chow Yun-Fat is only a supporting actor in this film but whenever he walks onscreen he steals the movie. Seriously, he's a sight to behold. Wisely is basically Sherlock Holmes (complete with ever-present pipe) but he is a calm center even during the most chaotic moments. When our hero Yuen threatens to falter, Wisely will reassure him with a few words and the world seems right again. His solutions are either complete nonsense or totally no-nonsense (there is no middle-ground) but they always work.
6: There is this Buddha statue which needs to be climbed and suddenly all hell breaks loose.
The Buddha statues in Ong Bak were pretty impressive but the one in this film is stunning. A huge set which is the background of a huge fight which must have been painfully difficult to shoot. What makes it even more difficult is that the Buddha crumbles and sometimes moves his limbs. However, if you ever get to see this movie pay close attention to how the fight ends. Next, wonder (and not for the first time): was this fight necessary, strictly speaking?
7: More male bonding than you can shake a stick at.
Yep, this is almost a parody of what John Woo already does so extensively in his films. Men are MEN is this film, fighting each other yet becoming blood brothers within seconds! And after bonding they decide amongst themselves what needs to be done next, women be damned!
Chow Yun-Fat says a few wise words at the end about women and beauty, a statement which is hilariously hypocritical concerning what happens before and (seconds) after it.
There is more.
Believe me, there is more!
Don't assume I've spoiled the movie for you, in fact I haven't scratched the surface yet. I didn't even mention the soldiers, the terrorists, the bank robbery, the chase between the Porsche and the Ferrari, the innuendo, cow placentas, a stuntman just failing to dodge the jeep in time, and the incredibly gory finale has only gotten the briefest of mentions...
I found this film because someone mentioned it in our forum (thank you, Guitarbrother!) and it's a find indeed.
As for availability: for a while it was hard to find an English-friendly version which wasn't out of print or excruciatingly expensive (cough Japan cough), but as of last year Fortune Star re-released a DVD in Hong Kong which is in fact regionfree NTSC.