Thursday, August 20, 2015

Return of the Demon – review

Director: Ying Wong

Release date: 1987

Contains spoilers

Mo gao yi zhang, in Cantonese, the name Return of the Demon is possibly a misnomer (or at least not literally a demon) despite the bad guy in this being referred to as Monster (Dick Wei, the Seventh Curse) through the film and in the credits.

The film was written by Gwing-Gai Lee and Ying Wong, the latter being the writer who developed the story of that great piece of Hong Kong cinema Mr Vampire. This film does not have kyonsi in it – though it has ghosts and what we might see as variants of the werewolf and zombie. However the Monster is an energy vampire of the soul eating variety.

pouring ink
It begins with us being told of a treasure being held in the hands of a Buddha that could only be released by someone born in the year of Hoi (what that means I actually do not know). We see a group of four treasure hunters approach what is visible of a giant Buddha statue (only the hands and head are above the ground). The leader, Fierce (Fui-On Shing, Blue Jean Monster) , spots a rival treasure hunter on a cliff and takes him down with a hatchet, two more are then despatched. The group’s Lockmaster (Siu-Ming To) pours ink on a sword in the Buddha’s hands to try and retrieve the treasure.

freeing the monster
This causes steam to escape the hands and an eclipse of the sun. Celestial electricity strikes the hands, opening them and revealing what looks like a corpse – it’s actually the Monster – holding a treasure box. As they investigate the box – and discover it contains bizarre spiked steel devices – the Monster awakens. He grabs one of the devices and closes it around the head of the treasure hunter Kwai killing him. (To note the last treasure hunter is Fierce’s sister Panther (Sau-Lai Tsui, also the Seventh Curse)). They start fighting for their lives.

Te-Lo Mai as Mak
Intervening in the fight is Kin (Charlie Cho, the First Vampire in China & Here Comes a Vampire) and his student Mak (Te-Lo Mai). They use the sword to fight him off. Later they explain to the treasure hunters that they had come to stop them awakening the Monster. Kin and the Monster were brothers who studied longevity (Kin is 280 years old) but the Monster went astray and started stealing the souls of Hoi men so as to gain immortality (49 souls are needed). Kin subdued him and locked him in rock.

stealing a soul
As the story progresses we discover that Kwai is soul 47 and that Monster needs just two more. Each soul gives him additional powers. By the time the heroes actually confront him for the final battle he needs just one more soul and can only be killed by pushing the sword into his “pulse” – given that we see a red pool pulsing with maggots crawling in it I took pulse to be a mistranslation of heart and that his heart had been removed (by himself) and placed in a rock for safety – it is revealed by happenstance. There is a mechanism for fully extracting the soul, which then passes through a stone bas-relief and into him. However Kin confirms that Monster has to digest the soul (and so is eating them).

Emily Chu as Tayona
I mentioned other supernatural types. Kin trades senses with a dog through magical means but is caught out by the full moon, which causes him to transform into a dog-man who is crazed and homicidal (and leads to a prolonged fight/physical comedy routine with several characters)… so kind of a werewolf but he is cured when the fur of the dog is removed from his forehead. There is a haunted house scene with ghosts, including one powerful ghost called Tayona (Emily Chu, Vampire’s Breakfast) who is seeking a virgin to give up their life so she can reincarnate. Finally the soul extraction mechanism is powered by the dead pushing it – they are all victims of the Monster and have the steel devices on their heads. These are zombie like and can be killed (or deactivated) by removing the pin in their head. The Monster also kills a man by scooping out eating his brain, this enables him to control the corpse.

a were-dog
The film isn’t bad but I wasn’t overly struck by the comedy. The scene where they are arrested by sadistic cop Wei (Pak-Cheung Chan), and which culminated in the were-dog scene, went on a bit too long for my taste. There was a very Hong Kong cinema urine joke that was triggered by a visit to vet Kao (Ma Wu, Exorcist Master, Mr Vampire 5, a Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Mr Vampire 4 & also Vampire’s Breakfast) that didn’t necessarily tickle and a joke around Kin, Tayona and eggs that was brilliant in conception but flat in delivery. This is a shame as the film was fairly solid otherwise. Not brilliant but entertaining. 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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