BLACK MAGIC II/1976/SHAW BROTHERS
1976/ Director: Meng Hua Ho/Writer: Kuang Ni
Cast: Lo Lieh, Lung Ti, Ni Tien, Lily Li, Feng Lin, Wei Tu Lin, Terry Liu
AKA: Bewitch Tame Head, Black Magic II, Ngau Wan Gong Tau
Shaw Brothers leading horror/exploitation director Meng Hua Ho returns to the helm for this 1976 sequel to the previous year’s Black Magic. Also returning are veteran wu xia pian (“heroic kung fu films” usually with a wandering swordsman on a knight errant mission) actors Lo Lieh. and Ti Lung with Lo Lieh serving this time as the black magician. While I have not yet been able to find of a copy the first Black Magic film I understand that Lo Lieh was not the black magician in that one and will reserve any comments on that film until I have actually seen it. While the two Black Magic films have the reputation as Shaw Brothers studio most famous horror films they were in no way the first as the studio had dabbled in non-Kung Fun genres as far back as the 50’s. The Hong Kong horror genres would evolve , after the 80’s, into the Category III (meaning sexually explicit but not quite hard core porn) and contain the sort of shock elements found in Japanese horror. With Black Magic II (Revenge of the Zombies and Gou Hun Jiang Tou) there are more than enough elements visually and story wise to keep the film somewhat linked to the classic Shaw Brother’s films of the 60’s and early 70’s and yet has a few twists make it a little surprising as well.
The version I have, along with many of the Shaw Brothers film I have here, maybe a couple dozen or so, is not dubbed into English but was dubbed into Mandarin from Cantonese. I speak a little Mandarin and even learned some phrases from the movie but I will be honest when I say that I usually prefer these things to be dubbed into English. I know there are purists who cringe at the idea of a film being dubbed and in many ways I fell the same way. My problem is often with the subtitles themselves being too small, the phrases being too long and moving to quickly I am constantly replaying scenes to see what the hell the subs are saying. I would certainly prefer to see the film in Chinese language but I typically hate fighting the sub quality. Now that being said the version of Black Magic II I saw had readable subs over all. Reasonable large, short phrases and they did not vanish off the screen before I could finish a sentence. Later the same night I tried to watch the Shaw Brothers kung fu film Flying Tiger and had to give up and the text was too small and scrolled along way too fast. Another thing is that I loved the poorly dubbed dialog. It is usually priceless. I am posting a trailer to the film at the bottom of the article that is dubbed in English and it looks great and campy. And lets be honest my slight skill in Mandarin helped me to realize that the film was dubbed anyway from the southern style of Chinese spoken in the more liberal and creative Hong Kong to the standard Chinese of the mainland where films like this are just not made. This is a pretty good movie on one level but on another it is campy, chessy and corny fare and many people may be disappointed with it, but I loved it. Is that a recommendation or a warning?
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The film starts off with a scene that looks like it is shot in a rural village that is situated on the banks of a muddy brown river. We are quickly treated to topless Chinese peasant girls frolicking in the murky water and just as quickly to one being eaten by a hungry crocodile. The village witch doctor soon catches the croc and kills it and fishes a trinket owned by the dead girl from its belly. Not really sure what this all has to do with the film as a whole except that it introduces the character of the witch doctor who I all but forgot about until he reappears at the end of the film for a few minutes. The action suddenly jumps to downtown Hong Kong and a disco where a man is fascinated with what appears to an alluring bargirl (euphemism for hooker in Asia) who vanishes with someone else. The girl turns out to be a zombie that is controlled by the black magician Cong Kang played by Lo Lieh. These are old school zombies in that they are the products of some sort of magic or voodoo ritual rather than some virus or military experiment. The zombies are usually under the control of some evil sorcerer as is the case here. The zombies are placed under his power when Cong Kang drives an incredibly long nail into the top of their skulls and then they shrivel up into a putrid pulp when he removes the nail later in the basement of his evil mansion. Not only does Cong Kang pimp out zombie girls but he runs a very profitable spell casting business. The rates start at about $5000 and this seems reasonable since each spell takes fives years off of his life, or so he claims. He maintains a “youthful” (more like middle aged) appearance by drinking breast milk from young women who later give birth to deformed, freakish babies. The potion he gives the women to insure the milk is empowered properly is contains the ingredient of some of the victim’s own hair, and I ain’t talking about head hair either. Seriously. In a really odd scene the guy trims some pubes off a girl, burns it a bit and then mixes it up in his concoction and then gives it back to the girl to drink.
Maybe I am getting ahead of myself here with spoilers. We are introduced to two couple who meet at the airport and while sharing a ride we learn the guys are both doctors but with different points of view concerning the powers of black magic. The more skeptical of the pair is played by kung fu star Ti Lung. He is the man of science and cannot his good friend, played by Wei Tu Lin (Cantonese Lam Wai-Tu), can seriously believe the local superstitions about many recent patients in the hospital being the victims of spells. The guys are married to hot looking 70’s style Hong Kong girls Ni Tien and Lily Li. Even though skeptical Ti Lung sees all sorts of freakish disorders with patients in the hospital he remains convinced it all has a logical explanation. While all of this is going on we go back to the man we saw in the disco at the beginning of the film who goes to Cong Kang with a picture of the girl he saw in the disco and tells the sorcerer he is in love with the girl and wants to meet her. Cong Kang takes his hefty fee and is soon banging a nail back into the head of the now rancid girl. She transforms back into the beauty the man lusts after and he soon is dropping his current date and heading off to a hotel room with the zombie girl. There while in the middle of passionate love making she sees the Buddha necklace the man wears and she turns back into a withered old woman. Cong Kang begins torturing a wax effigy of the man and he shortly falls to pieces on the sidewalk whilst a crowd looks on in horror.
Things get complicated as the two couple get pulled into Cong Kang’s activities after he puts a spell on Wei Tu Lin’s wife played by Lily Li and is soon snipping her pubic hair and sipping her breast milk to retain his youth. Seems that, as luck would have it, the unfortunate couples are actually neighbors with Cong Kang. Small world indeed. Ti Lung says he will believe in black magic if Cong Kang can cast a love spell between Wei Tu Lin and Lung’s wife Ni Tian (or Tain Ni sometimes). Ti Ling is soon a believer after his wife and best friend are all but ripping each other’s clothes off and winking to each other while corny sound effects boing away in the background. The action picks up after Wei tun Lin and Lily Li dissolve in the park and Ti Lung heads to the evil mansion to free his wife from the dark spell Cong Kang has cast over her. He battles hordes of zombies who bounce up and down on trampolines. The old wizard from the beginning of the film appears long enough to have a magical duel with Cong Kang and get killed off but gives Ti Lung his eyeballs in one very memorable scene, instructing him to eat them so them will give him special sight. I would hope so. There is an obligatory fight scene between the kung fu stars on a cable car between and a final showdown in front of the wizard’s burning mansion where good triumphs over evil. I found the movie to be pretty fun and wished I had been able to get the English dubbed version so I could relax and veg out on it when I watched it at two in the morning but I like the way Mandarin sounds and am glad it was not in Cantonese at least. Samples from the disco bar scene were used in the song looking Down the Barrel of a Gun by The Beastie Boys.