Image Entertainment // 1982 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 4th, 2008
What's Mandarin for "WTF"?
The latest dispatch from the voluminous Shaw Brothers collection may have been better served by remaining in the vault. I burned through some valuable gray matter watching this mind-@#$% of a martial arts bonanza.
Tan and Lung are two men from wealthy families who are harboring real grudges against each other. Actually Lung seems to have more of a hard-on about acting like a jerk than Tan does, prompting him to seek out a shady craftsman who promises to make the most awesome lantern ever, which Lung hopes will earn him a victory in the annual lantern-creating contest.
Still with me? Great, because it just gets loonier. So this lantern-maker has a secret: he makes his lanterns using human skin, which he culls from kidnapped maidens. He ties them to a pole, dances around in furry boots and a monkey mask, screams a lot, and flays them alive.
When the Shaw Brothers floodgates were thrown open, all manner of bizarre creation came pouring out. As bizarre goes, Human Lanterns is in its very own league. If I were to watch another 50 crazy kung-fu movies, I doubt any of them would even approach the insanity that is this film. Well, Challenge of the Tiger with its slow-motion topless female tennis matches gets close, but Human Lanterns is out there. It needs its own genre.
So we've got two rich guys who constantly get up in each other's business, causing property damage on a massive scale when they get to sparring. Their rivalry is so intense that -- are you ready for this?! -- they compete against each other in a lantern-making contest! Those lantern-making contests, they bring the absolute worst out in people. But all that is merely used to introduce the villain of the picture, Chun-fang, from which more deranged weirdness flows.
His bearded-monkey-skull mask, his diabolical lantern-making lair, his cauldron of blood -- the guy knows how to be a heavy. By the time Lung squares off with Chun-fang, you'll be rooting for the guy to get his ass handed to him. And that's noteworthy, because Lung is a prick himself, constantly abusing his underlings with verbal attacks and bellowing out obnoxious holier-than-thou guffaws. The fact that you may find yourself rooting for this douchebag is a testament to how gnarly Chun-fang is.
It's all about the F-word: "flaying." Don't know about you, but the thought of having my skin peeled off while I'm still alive ranks up with eyeball gouging and prison rape on the list of "Things I Would Prefer Not to Experience in My Life." The "skin peeling" scenes are the big sellers of the zaniness quotient, with Chun-fang hauling his maidens into his lantern laboratory, stabbing them in the head, stripping them naked, and slowly removing their flesh. Then he grabs the skin and runs around yelping. Yeesh.
There is some kung fu in this king fu movie, and it's pretty good stuff. No one busts out jaw-dropping moves or anything, but the choreography -- a mix of practical weapons fighting and wire work -- is good and the big finale, complete with multiple fighters, swords, and fire, is a winner.
Great DVD treatment from Image. A very clean 2.35:1 transfer and a mono soundtrack (Chinese) are joined by a nice interview with Shawn Yin, a still gallery, and an alternate take of the skin peel scene.
All kinds of weird, but lots of good kung fu!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Mandarin)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Take
* Still Gallery