Thursday, January 19, 2017

Holy Virgin Vs the Evil Dead – review

Director: Tony Liu Chun-Ku

Release date: 1991

Contains spoilers

Holy Virgin vs Evil Dead is one of those films that makes it onto vampire filmographies but, for a moment, I wondered whether this should be a ‘Vamp or Not?’ rather than a review. Ultimately I thought that it does enough to warrant the vampire label and is probably vampire enough to dispense with questioning the film and thus I should get on with reviewing it.

It is a strange one, clearly aping – at least in title – the cult Sam Raimi film from ten years before. In reality there is only some POV moving camera work and some wind machines that truly ape the classic film. It is, however, a film in which we play the game "spot the virgin". In fact this is a bit of an exploitation flick. There were two releases, a domestic one and an international one and the latter covered up nudity whereas the former revelled in it. I used the domestic version for review.

The film opens with a view of the monster of the piece – the moon monster (Ken Lo Wai-Kwong) – he is bathed in red light, his eyes flash green lightning and he bites into a woman’s neck, lifting his head to show his blood-soaked mouth. That is our primary vampire trope, right there, and whilst it isn’t clear at this point that he is drinking the blood some dialogue confirmation later spared this from investigation. We then see a woman, Shamen (Chui Hei-Man), walk naked to a pool. The camera explores and lingers, we say sexploitation, and then she goes skinny dipping.

Donnie Yen Ji-Dan as Shiang
Shiang ( Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Painted Skin) is a teacher and is out having a night time barbeque with several of his female students… as you do. Suddenly, out of their sight, a figure bursts from the earth (it is the Moon Monster). Two of the girls go off as one needs a pee and the moon turns red. Suddenly there is mayhem as the Moon Monster starts ripping off clothes and rending flesh. Shiang tries to fight him but is knocked out.

Ben Lam Kwok-Bun as Chen
Shiang is being held by the police. There are two police Sgts on the case of the “sexual maniac” as they are calling it. One Sgt Hu (Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung) believes him guilty but… could she be our Holy Virgin… the answer is, no. The other Sgt Chen (Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Mr Vampire & the Romance of the Vampires), well that’s where it gets complicated. You see he is Shamen’s boyfriend and Shiang is her ex-husband – Shamen is clearly not our Holy Virgin.

vampiric possession
Shiang is released on bail – paid for by Chow Yuan-Fat (Robert Mak Tak-Law, the First Vampire in China), a PI friend who wants to help prove his innocence. Cut to the evening and we see a couple bonking in a car. They finish, the moon turns red and her eyes flash green lightning as she tears out her lover’s throat. The Moon Monster is in a shrine to a hermaphroditic god. She goes to him and he rips her throat out… why exactly this happened, what her relationship to him was and how the apparent possession came to pass… none of this is answered.

non-human hair
For the cops the shrine murder adds further questions. They find hairs with the victim that turn out to be of non-human type and eventually blows up (along with the rest of the evidence gathered). However it puts Shiang on the case and he realises that it has something to do with obscure folklore and visits Director Cho (Kathy Chow Hoi-Mei, Vampire Controller). She recognises the God description as being one from Chinla – a predecessor kingdom in Cambodia. But, could she be our Holy Virgin? I thought so at first and it would have been a great move to take the bookish academic and make her a kick-ass evil dead killer. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Chui Fat as Ma Tian
However it is at this time that the true villain of the piece, Ma Tian (Chui Fat), makes himself known. He owned the shrine and chastises Moon Monster for killing there. Ma Tian then tells him that he needs a woman born in the time of Yin to achieve his full powers and gives him an artefact that will bleed if she’s near. Cho has gone to visit Chen and Shamen, to tell the cop what she has told Shiang. Moon Monster’s artefact starts bleeding and the lucky winner is… shamen. He tries to kidnap her but is stopped by Chen unloading his gun into him and Cho electrocuting him in the pool. However he is soon up and out of the morgue and kills Cho (we are told that, off screen, he removed her head and ripped her heart out).

Pauline Yeung Bo-Ling as Princess White
Shiang, Chen and Chow Yuan-Fat decide to go to Cambodia then and Shamen insists on coming too (our female cop has dramatically quit the force to become an actress and so doesn’t travel with them!) The viewer's first glimpse of Cambodia is of the Wind Tribe – whose lineage goes back to Chinla – and a visiting Prince Wolf who wishes to marry the Princess White (Pauline Yeung Bo-Ling). To win her hand he must defeat her and her awesome wire-fu and, ladies and gentlemen, we finally have our Holy Virgin. After Prince Wolf fails to win her hand the village is hit by a mysterious wind, warning her father that the evil of the Moon Monster has returned. He equips her with a magic sword, that fires lightning and, of course, she ends up meeting, and working with, the Hong Kong posse.

Moon Monster
The only other vampire related moment to mention is when the HK guys are discussing Moon Monster with Princess White and one calls him a vampire. She hasn’t heard of the term and so Chow does an impression of a kyonsi (which he clearly isn’t, however the idea of mentioning the Chinese specific vampire type when the vampire on screen is not of that type runs through several Hong Kong movies). As for the rest of the film, some wire-fu, machine gun battles (with endless henchmen in poor uniforms, who are terrible shots) and nudity… more nudity.

kick ass evil dead killer
It really is a hotchpotch of a film that perhaps could have done with more explicit violence – rather than explicit (and often not plot necessary) nudity. The concepts, characters and fights come thick and fast and prevent us from thinking too much about a plot that really is thin (and has no motivation, especially where the main villain is concerned). Ideas like the woman becoming possessed by the Moon Monster and acting as a proxy for a kill came out of leftfield and then left unexplained and essentially ignored. Not the greatest movie, but with a few beers and a hankering for some wire-fu and some nudity, well you could do worse. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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