When I write for Mondo Exploito, I do try my hardest not to give a blow-by-blow account of the plot, but I also have a habit of picking movies that are almost impossible to follow. I’ve watched The Boxer’s Omen three times now and I’m still not entirely sure how I’m supposed to sum up its mix of genres, or its brazen disregard for coherent storytelling. It’s a horror/surrealist nightmare, dressed up as Shaw Brothers martial arts flick and it’s seemingly been designed to induce as much confusion as possible. It’s not to be trifled with. So I must advise you that the following review is essentially a great big list of spoilers because that was the only way I could coherently translate what I experienced.
THE BOXER’S OMEN
original title: 魔 (Mo)
Hong Kong, 1983, Chih-Hung Kuei
Bolo must have thought the same because he jumps on Wing before he even has a chance to celebrate and breaks his back against the ropes. He suffers no consequences for this which seems pretty unreasonable to me, but hey, I don’t follow Thai kickboxing.
Hung visits Wing at the hospital, where he tells Hung that he wants him to train in kickboxing so that he can kick Bu Bo’s head in. Hung isn’t keen and gets back to his gangster business, but later he’s visited by a ghostly monk (Elvis Tsui), who also tells him to go to Thailand so he changes his mind.
Not before having some awkward sex with his girlfriend against a window though.
After arriving in Thailand, he quickly picks a fight with Bu Bo before visiting the Monk’s temple, where he’s strangely expected. Hung doesn’t understand how they could have known he was coming and when they explain it to him, the movie falls down the rabbit hole and rarely comes back up for air.
A sudden flashback tells us about an Evil Wizard who’s trying to kill a monk with rubber bats, sacrifices, skeletons, snake charming and a very sloppy looking skull (with the eyes still perfectly preserved). There are even plastic spiders that would look shoddy in a Fulci flick.
Long story short, the Evil Wizard was trying to put a curse on the Monk and succeeds. The Monk dies, but becomes immortal in the form of a statue, holding onto the curse forever. Hung, naturally, wants to know what the hell this has to do with his brother. He’s taken to another room where the statue of the Monk rests, and the statue itself explains that in a past life his twin brother was Wing, and that the curse will follow him around until he dies. The only way to break the curse is if Hung defeats the Evil Wizard himself. Hung isn’t convinced and goes home but, in a spectacular scene, he changes his mind when he vomits up a live Eel.
It’s completely gross and weird and convinces Hung to break the curse. Hung returns to the temple and trains with the monks and once he’s ready he is sent out to defeat the Evil Wizard. The training montage in The Boxer’s Omen is pretty special, focusing on the philosophical rather than the physical. I don’t know exactly what was going on but there’s lots of lasers and it gets really trippy, like something out of a Jodorowsky movie. It’s brilliant.
Anyway, the battle between Hung and the Evil Wizard is definitely the centrepiece of the movie. The Evil Wizard is a great character. All bulging eyes and crazy hair, dancing around like a deranged shaman, commanding his army of plastic bats and snapping crocodile skulls while drinking the blood from decapitated chickens. He’s completely bonkers.
There are more plastic bats, more lasers, a really rubbish looking snot-goblin. It just keeps throwing more and more craziness at the screen. The highlight though is when the Wizard’s head rips off his shoulders, flies across the room to attack Hung with tentacles that have sprouted from its neck. Hung defeats the Wizard by using all of his Jodorowsky magic to make the Wizard and his snot-goblin melt into blubbering puddles of gunge. It’s as insane as it sounds and it’s glorious.
After this victory, Hung returns to his girlfriend in Hong Kong and immediately gives up the monk lifestyle in another awkward love scene. Then he prepares for his fight against Bu Bo.
The transition from crazy, surreal horror to the real world is jarring, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the movie was about to end with a climactic kickboxing fight against Bolo, but you’d be wrong. The movie has barely been on for an hour and there are plenty more twists and turns to go.
It turns out there were three other Evil Wizards and they weren’t pleased about Hung beating their bro. So they combine their powers to summon an even stronger evil curse, in the shape of a naked crazy lady with pointy fingers. They summon her in a pretty gross way, too. It involves a lot of eating and regurgitating and more decapitated chickens and dead crocodiles. I don’t know much about magic so I can’t speak about the authenticity of this procedure, all I know is I wouldn’t want to try it myself.
Anyway, the kickboxing match is underway by now and Hung, like his brother before him, is somehow battering Bu Bo. Bolo Yeung is a good sport in this movie. He’s twice the size of Hung (and Wing) but he takes their pathetic slaps and genuinely looks hurt. It couldn’t have been easy for him. In a film full of ridiculous stuff, this is the hardest stuff to swallow.
However, victory is almost snatched from Hung when the curse is revived, causing him to go blind in the ring. Bu Bo, being the sportsmanlike guy he is, takes advantage of this and completely batters Hung to a pulp. That battering goes on for well over five minutes before Hung somehow manages to throw a flying kick into Bu Bo’s face, sending him over the ropes, knocking him out. It’s ridiculous.
After the match, Hung returns to the monks, who plead with him to battle the forces of evil again. However, they are angry with him when they discover that he was unfaithful to Buddha by banging his girlfriend and tell him that he has lost his ability to perform Jodorowsky magic. Hung is shamed and thrown out of the temple, but not before the monk statue comes to life to tell him about a temple in Nepal that contains more Jodorowsky magic inside of a giant Buddha statue, and that if Hung can find it, he can then use it to break the curse.
If it seems convoluted then that’s because it is and I’m pretty sure this plot development is only in the film so the crew could go on holiday because for the next twenty or so minutes, the movie drags to a near standstill as Hung wanders around Nepal looking for the temple like some kind of tourist. It’s an odd inclusion in an otherwise insanely paced movie.
When Hung finally arrives at the Buddha-temple in Nepal he is beset upon by the evil pointy fingered Witch and another magical duel unfolds. This duel, while not as insane as the earlier one, is still pretty nuts, featuring living statues, lasers, extreme nipple-cripples, giant rubber alligators and carnivorous cyclopean caterpillar looking things, foetuses, more Evil Wizards and a giant Buddha statue firing lasers out of its eyes.
I don’t know, man, I give up.
The Boxer’s Omen is a hell of an experience and it should really be right up there with the likes of Evil Dead 2, Hausu, Phantasm, Suspiria, and anything Jodorowsky made, but it’s still relatively obscure. Director Kuei Chih-Hung’s filmography is made up mostly of crime-thrillers, but his 70s/80s work consists of sick horrors like brutal Snakesploitation shocker The Killer Snakes (1975), Corpse Mania (1981) and Bewitched (1981), which I was surprised to find that The Boxer’s Omen was actually a sequel to. There is a strong visual flair throughout the movie, especially during the more magical scenes that enhance the surrealism and make you believe in what you’re seeing — even if what you’re seeing is clearly a cheap rubber spider biting into somebody’s face. It shouldn’t work and it kind of doesn’t, but that’s also why I enjoyed the movie as much as I did.
The Boxer’s Omen gave me a headache, but it was worth it.
Like most Shaw Brothers flicks, The Boxer’s Omen‘s print has been nicely preserved and released on DVD. It’s available in the States from Image Entertainment.