Friday, December 31, 2010

Honourable Mentions: Gong Tau

Gong Tau – also known as Oriental Black Magic – was a 2007 film by Herman Yau. Heavier on the gore than many of the films that come out of Hong Kong, it starts off as a fairly tense thriller with a supernatural under-current.

It features a cop named Rockman (Mark Cheng) who is part of a specialist crime team trying to track down a fugitive called Lam Chiu (Tak-bun Wong). Lam Chiu has not been long released from prison and is suspected of cop murders. He was put away by Rockman but had initially resisted arrest. Rockman shot Lam Chiu during the arrest and, although he survived, he has lost all sense of pain. Interestingly he suggests, towards the end of the film, that he now knows what it is like to be one of the living dead because of this.

the baby is killed
At the head of the film we see someone break into Rockman’s home and take a snip of hair from his sleeping baby and his wife, Karpi (Maggie Siu). A week later a retiring beat cop, Uncle Bill (Kwun-hong Lee), is ritualistically murdered – shot so as to incapacitate and haemorrhage to death, strung up and his chin burnt. On the same night a sorcerer casts a needle Gong Tau on Karpi, causing her intense pain, and remotely kills the baby.

sign of Gong Tau
Gong Tau seems to be the generic name for a hex. A needle Gong Tau is a sympathetic type of magic – much like voodoo – using a fetish doll and needles. You can see if a person is under a Gong Tau by looking at their eyes, if bloodshot with a black line scoring up the white of the eye then they are cursed. A Gong Tau can be removed but if the caster dies before removal it will never go.

Rockman and Sum
The Gong Tau is recognised by a fellow cop, Brother Sum (Suet Lam, Vampire Hunters). He is present at the autopsies. Uncle Bill has a giant millipede moving through his innards (part of the black magic) and the baby corrupts immediately, maggots falling out of the 100 stab wounds. He convinces Rockman, who takes his wife to a Buddhist who clears the Gong Tau – but then realises that a worse one has been cast.

Here is the nub of the story – and the reason for the honourable mention – Rockman had an affair when in Thailand and the sorcerer is out for revenge over the affair. The connection with Lam Chiu is minimal – he is killing cops to get corpse fat from them (hence the burnt chin) as ingredients for magic, he sells to the sorcerer but he is also the only one that can save Rockman’s wife from him. The sorcerer has cast a flying head Gong Tau.

head detaches
This essentially means he has cast a spell that allows his head to rip from the body – at first pulling the organs and intestines out with it. For all intents and purposes he has turned himself into a krasue – albeit he is male. The film mixes and matches its concepts here for the best filmic impact. So whilst this is not the normal Thai legend it takes that form. Ah, you may ask, but what about blood drinking?

flying head drinks blood
The flying head eventually loses the organs (why this is the case is not explained, but the dialogue states that it takes the organs with it at first and later we see it without them attached) but also drinks blood. What sort of blood seems to be irrelevant. A cat is drained at one point and we see a feed on a human. By the time it feeds on the human the innards have gone and so it sucks the blood and this spews out of the severed neck onto the floor. However the blood is not taken for sustenance but for power – when enough is taken the flying head can kill at a distance.

I said it started as a tense thriller but the film suffered from some poor pacing as it went along. On the other hand it generated some nice atmospherics and had some effective gore moments. The vampiric appearance was kind of a pseudo-krasue, but certainly the filmmakers must have known what they were borrowing and it is of genre interest enough to deserve an honourable mention.

The imdb page is here.

Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic on Amazon US

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