Image Entertainment // 1992 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 19th, 2007
Lots of hallucinogens over in China, I suppose.
There's this guy Ren, and he's the royal executioner, charged with beheading the land's worst scumbags. As he approaches his 1,000th beheading, political unrest has seized the nation. The Eight Devilish Mortals, a ruthless criminal gang lead by Blood Lotus (Joey Wong), have sown discord for years, until Ren chopped all of their heads off -- except for Blood Lotus. Now everyone's jumpy, because she's still out there with vengeance on her mind.
Meanwhile, Ren has trained Quick Kid to one day take over the beheading duties and wield the legendary gold sword to dispatch the criminal vermin. Quick Kid is eager and energetic, but also a jackass; every time he tries to behead someone on his own, he screws it up. Quick Kid will face his ultimate test, thought, when the Eight Devilish Mortals return from the afterlife to exact revenge on Ren for separating their shoulders from their frontal lobes. It's a Battle Royale, full of lightning and lasers and fire-breathing action figures and gremlins, and there were won't be many survivors.
I don't think I've seen such a confluence of lightning and Asian actors since Big Trouble in Little China. The special effects guys go hog-wild with The Executioner, especially in the overblown finale where everyone suddenly has the ability to shoot Dark Side lasers from their bodies.
The film doesn't start out as a special-effects extravaganza, however. While it never hits the dramatic stride of something like House of Flying Daggers, The Executioner plays it fairly straight for the first two-thirds. It's goofy in some parts, sure, but only because the premise of an executioner approaching the anniversary of his 1,000th decapitation is inherently humorous. Or maybe I'm a sick bastard? Still the filmmakers play it serious, attempting to explore Quick Kid's perceived insecurities (yes, I just wrote the phrase "Quick Kid's perceived insecurities") and his quest to become a kick-ass executioner like his mentor. There's also some stuff about Blood Lotus and her blood vendetta, and how guys can't get enough of her, especially this one dude who gets himself castrated by her hand, yet still comes crawling back.
This is all well and good, but it merely serves as a preamble to the meat of the film: the blowout finale. Up until the final act, the action is subdued, and with what little fisticuffs there are, the choreography isn't all that energizing (one of the better bits of fighting is an extended sequence has the Blood Lotus running through the town and fending off guards during an execution of one of her Devilish comrades). But as soon as the Eight Devilish Mortals return in spectral form to square off with Ren, it gets @#$% crazy. What started out as a reality-grounded kung-fu drama morphs into a blazing spectacle of fake pyrotechnics. You'll have to sit through a whole lot of talking before you get to the good stuff (the scene where Ren and the Mortals talk about their history together is unending), but it's worth it. Electrocutions, swordfights, weird Dr. Seuss-like poems uttered by a gigantic demon-fighter, more beheadings, ghost bludgeoning, statues that shoot laser beams out of their eyes -- crazy!
Is this film worth tracking down? I would say so, especially if you're a connoisseur of obscure, wacky kung-fu films. While it doesn't approach the bat-@#$% craziness of something like Drunken Dragon, The Executioner sports its fair share of entertaining, scratch-your-head moments.
Image has delivered a decent little DVD, complete with a clean, anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer and the original mono Chinese soundtrack. It's a good-looking treatment, though trailers are it for extras. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Chinese)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated