One of the main aspects of Asian cinema I admire most is their ability to throw so many different themes and devices of film making into one pot and come out with something that is not only coherent, but insanely enjoyable. One of the finer, and more shamelessly indulgent examples of this particular, and rare, breed of film is The Seventh Curse, directed by Ngai Kai Lam, who some of you may know best for directing Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. While much can be said about Riki-Oh, I find The Seventh Curse (Curse for short) to be his best work, simply because it is a rollicking good time that hardly ever slows down and is constantly upping the ante for what can be considered too over the top and downright ridiculous. Merging together kung-fu, gun-fu, Indiana Jones style adventure (including a scene in which 2 of our heroes run away from a tumbling head of a giant stature down a corridor in true Indy form), horror, gore, and comedy, Curse benefits from it’s blatant disregard for nuance and subtlety in favor of unabashed wackiness and fun.
“A young heroic cop in the jungle of Thailand attempts to rescue a beautiful girl from being sacrificed to the “Worm Tribe” she belongs to. As a result, the cop is damned with seven “Blood Curses” which burst through his leg periodically. When the seventh bursts, he will die, but Betsy, the beauty he saved stops the curse with an antidote that lasts only one year, so on the advice of Wisely (Chow yun Fat), he heads back to Thailand to find a permanent cure. Action ensues as the cop and cohorts battle the evil sorcerer of the Worm Tribe, a hideous bloodthirsty baby like creature and “Old Ancestor,” a skeleton with glowing blue eyes that transforms into a monster that is a cross between Rodan and Alien.” -IMDB
I find myself at almost a complete loss on how to describe the acting, chiefly because it is intentionally hammy. Our heroes our akin to “Everymen”, who can wield guns like champions, deliver single kick or punch knock out blows to anyone with a pulse, and take damage completely in stride while retaining full ass kicking ability. The guy who stands out, as he does in every single movie I have seen him in, is Chow Yun Fat. Shame however, since he only pops up in a handful of scenes, but when he is on screen he just emanates an aura and presence that is unmistakably his own. Maybe it’s the time I intimately spent analyzing and re-watching his work with John Woo, but the man just seems to command the cameras unwavering attention, which is a testament to his abilities since he has worked with many directors over the years in various types of movies. Besides Yun-Fat being as diesel as he always is, Maggie Cheung and Siu-Hou Chin work well as the unlikely tandem of SuperCop-extraordinaire (Chin) and nosy, rich, brat journalist who is it it for the money and fame (Cheung). The rest of the cast come in and out at almost random intervals, but they all play their parts as cliche and stereotypically as possible, which is by no means a slight. This is a film, as mentioned before, than is trying to entertain and squeeze as much laughter and bravado out of the it’s irreverence as possible. And oh how it succeeds in doing that on every level fathomable.
Ngai Kai Lams directing is pretty spot on, and you can tell he must have been a fan of older adventure pictures like Clash of the Titans and some of the sword and sandal epics like Sinbad during his youth. If he could of, I bet you he would have used claymation or stop-motion animation to create some of his monsters. As it turns out, rubber and latex worked just as well, and Lam shows his love for these effects by giving us quality, long, and loving looks at the monstrosities. Other tactics he uses can be easily connected to some of his peers at the time, most notably John Woo and Sammo Hung, who were, along with some other big names, blowing the lid right off the Hong Kong action scene with their progressive ideas and formulas. We get some wonderfully shot bare knuckle fighting, usually punctuated by explosions that look fantastic and take place dangerously close to the actors. When our heroes aren’t duking it out with jungle tribesmen and hostage takers, they can be found lighting up the landscape with all sorts of projectile weaponry, culminating in Yun-Fat’s stellar two-time use of a classic rocket launcher during the rousing finale. All of this is shot very well, giving just enough time to savor the wire work that was pulling back stuntmen getting blown away at point blank with shotguns as well as some great, firework style squibs and blood splatter. Lam also keeps the pace brisk, but not blistering. While the plot is hardly the paramount concern for this production, he still manages to eek out some mythical, fantasy style reasoning for the wild goings on within the flick. It’s nice to have a second to catch your breath too, especially when you factor in the fact this movie clocks in at a lean 1 hour and 18 minutes.
If you like your effects cheesy and heavy-handed, but at the same time incredibly well designed and mobile, then you might as well stop reading now and just go get yourself a copy of this film. The effects here are all practical and usually prosthetic, borrowing liberally from all that have come before it. From Basket Case, to Alien, to Jason and the Argonauts, there is a little love letter stowed away inside The Seventh Curse to all these films and what they brought to the table as far as special effects mastery and perfection. Couple that with some surprisingly explosive gore, bullet wounds akimbo and fires and explosions that almost outnumbers the lines of dialogue spoken, and you have yourself a real treat for anyone who longs for the days before computers went and pissed in our collective cereal and made everything look like a goddamn video game. When the effects aren’t tickling your nostalgia bone, they will certainly be giving you some unintentional giggles. At one point, when the “Old Ancestor” (Has anyone every met a YOUNG Ancestor?) comes back for the first time in the picture and faces off with one of our heroes, you can clearly see that someone off camera throw the skeleton puppet directly at the actor (Chin), who then grabs it, struggles with a bit, and then is swatted away by its undoubtedly robot controlled arm, and flies a good 10-20 feet away. It has to be seen to be believed, but you better not be drinking anything when this happens, because I still a wet keyboard from dropping my bottle of water while laughing and rewinding to ensure I had truly seen what I thought I saw. Classic make up and effects in every sense of the word.
The Seventh Curse is not a film for everyone. Consider it that friend you had back in school, who was really fun and genuine to be around, but you always wondered if he was dropped on his head as a baby and his parents just never told him. It’s got no shame or apologies at the ready for it’s ludicrous nature, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It taps into so many trite, yet charming and lovable traits that makes older films hold up so well, and then throws in the yet-to-be-beaten-to-death mechanics and pacing that was quickly coming to fruition in Hong Kong in the mid to late 80′s. It is certainly something I would consider a “hidden gem”, or maybe it’s just overshadowed by so many other phenomenal works to come out of Hong Kong, especially in 1986. Regardless the reasoning as to why this flick seems to slip by so many people, I would encourage you to not let it fall by the wayside. This movie is like a college frat boy who ties fireworks to his genitals and then lights them and doesn’t get seriously injured. For whatever reason, it just works.