February 25, 2012

Reader's Choice: The Boxer's Omen (1983)

Directed by Chih-Hung Kuei.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Image Entertainment)
Running time: 01:43:45
Country: Hong Kong

Picked by venoms5

Fate and unfortunate circumstances draw lead character Chang Hung to Thailand, where he tracks down the kickboxer (Bolo Yeung!) who paralyzed his brother - also a boxer - during a post-match brawl. While there, Chang Hung begins to have vivid hallucinations of a Buddhist monk and is eventually drawn to a temple, where he meets an Abbot who proceeds to tell him that the apparition he's been seeing is of a fellow Abbot who was cursed and subsequently killed by an evil warlock while in the midst of "achieving immortality". Since then, his corpse has been kept in the temple, and that the fallen Abbot prophesied the arrival of Chang Hung. The catch is that Chang Hung and the ghostly Abbot were twins in a past life, which is why they have some sort of psychic bond that transcends death. Pretty deep for a movie as bat-shit crazy as this, but I'll get to that.

Part of the prophecy states that Chang Hung will seek vengeance against Bolo Yeung's character, but first he must become a Buddhist monk, which he eventually does. At first, Chang Hung calls bullshit and pretty much disregards the Abbot's far-fetched story, but he later has a change of heart when he vomits an eel in his hotel bathroom. Taught extreme discipline and the ways of the Buddhist temple, Chang Hung does a 180 and becomes the opposite of his former self. Now, you'd think this was all done to prepare Chang Hung for some sort of confrontation with Bolo's character, or maybe lead him to have a change of heart, but what ensues is pretty much a relentless barrage of supernatural shenanigans involving Chang Hung and a number of absurd villains, including a Filipino warlock and what I can only describe as a half-naked Alligator Goddess. Chang Hung eventually does cross paths with Bolo's character, but it becomes such a seemingly insignificant part of the story when it's all said and done, and I'm amazed at how so much of the first part of the film was built up to said confrontation only to brush over it so quickly.

Now, I honestly don't know where to go with this review because there's so much shit to talk about, so I'll just start with the Filipino warlock character, who's my favorite thing about the movie. I don't know the character's name, and I'm not sure if it was even mentioned (IMDB doesn't list anything), so I'll just refer to him as "Filipino warlock" or just plain old warlock from this point forward. What I love about this character is that he's absolutely insane for lack of a better description. Extremely hyper and he speaks Tagalog at what sounds like a million words per minute (although, having lived around Filipinos for a majority of my life, I can say that they all talk extremely fast), and he does some of the craziest shit I've ever seen an antagonist do in a film. For example, he has these rituals that seem to defy logic. Let's just say that when he plans some sort of attack, he goes all out. At one point he resurrects dead bats and summons both snakes and spiders in the same sequence. Obviously this dude has a connection with nature. And, speaking of which, if you thought the spiders in Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND looked fake, they ain't got shit on the spiders in this movie. In fact, most of the creatures in the film look extremely fake, but the big rubber alligator that turns up towards the end of the movie is easily the worst of the bunch.

What I just described in regards to the warlock is nothing compared to what he does later in the film when he clashes with Chang Hung for seemingly no reason other than his connection to the ghostly Abbot. As far as why the warlock and the Abbot had any beef in the first place, I'm not sure; either it wasn't explained in the film or it just went over my head. Whatever the case, Chang Hung and the warlock do battle, and I have to say that it's easily one of the most insane back and forth fight sequences I've ever seen in a movie. I won't give you a rundown of the entire sequence, but let's just say that, in a matter of a few minutes, we get an absolutely pointless close-up shot of the warlock's mustache (oh, and his face is painted like a clown, mind you), the warlock decapitating two chickens and swinging their lifeless bodies around (animal cruelty alert), possessed alligator skulls, more fake-looking bats, neon-colored gore a la STREET TRASH, and what looks like a disembodied alien head flying around and not doing a whole lot before meeting a rather abrupt end. Oh, and at one point the warlock vomits, eats his vomit, and then his head becomes detached from his body and proceeds to strangle Chang Hung with his dangling entrails.

If you haven't seen THE BOXER'S OMEN, by now you might be thinking that this is one of the most amazing genre-bending movies ever. Well, it's not. It has problems, but it doesn't mean that it's not as enjoyable as I'm making it out to be. One of the things that kinda kills the movie for me is the pacing and the really odd structure of the film. I don't know how else to describe it other than it feels like it has FIVE acts instead of the usual three. At a certain point, it seems like the movie resets itself and starts the second act all over again, and as a whole it's not as fast-paced as you'd think it would be, what with all the supernatural insanity and whatnot. However, that's the only negative thing I can say about the film from a critical standpoint, while keeping in mind that nature of the film and what it sets out to do.

Something noteworthy about THE BOXER'S OMEN is that, despite it being a Hong Kong production, it has more in common with Indonesian genre films than anything I've ever seen out of Hong Kong. It has the same atmosphere, trashy look, and bat-shit craziness as MYSTICS IN BALI and the like. Part of this has to do with the fact that most of the film is set in Thailand and that it features certain Indonesian cultural references, be it religion and supernatural lore. Other than that, THE BOXER'S OMEN has a very theatrical, otherworldly look to it, which is understandable considering the supernatural themes of the film. Visually, I was very impressed by the film in a lot of ways, from the neon-colored goop (interesting in that this predates STREET TRASH, which is the film that's most commonly associated with brightly-colored gore), to the Buddhist temple aesthetic, to the hellish set designs. If you can bring yourself to imagine a collaboration between Godfrey Ho and Alejandro Jodorowsky, or an Indonesian attempt at recreating the nightmarish visuals of SUSPIRIA, then you'll get an idea of what I got from it. THE BOXER'S OMEN is absolutely wild, highly imaginative, and unlike anything I've ever seen. Thoroughly enjoyed it despite its flaws.

Score: 8


  1. The last photo is from BEWITCHED (1981), during the finale between the wizard duel. The poster for that one promises the wackiness BOXER'S OMEN delivers. The wizard duels are pretty out there, but for the most part, BEWITCHED is just gruesome and pretty much serious. I posted a lot of images of both films promotion in a Shaw Halloween two parter.

    Kuei Chi Hung (I don't get why IMDB often lists Chinese people with their family names last when they should be first) did some really nasty shit, Aaron. KILLER SNAKES is out here and one of his movies. It's one of those movies that makes you feel like you need a shower afterward. He did a gritty DEATH WISH style revenge movie (released in 1973) entitled PAYMENT IN BLOOD, but it's never surfaced on DVD. His KILLERS ON WHEELS (1976) is a violent as hell rape-revenge movie. Kuei definitely had an eye for the brutal side of cinema.

    Regarding BOXER'S OMEN, the evil wizard was getting revenge on the monk trying to achieve immortality because he had killed one of his disciples. By the way, the good monk in the flashbacks was played by Elvis Tsui who you may, or may not have seen in a lot of HK softcore porn comedies, action, fantasy flicks. SEX AND ZEN is one of the most famous and you might find it of interest, Aaron!

    BOXER'S OMEN is a pretty mesmerizing movie. The sets are sprawling, the opticals are good, but these are mixed with some silly effects work. Interestingly enough, Kuei enjoyed making the props in his movies and participating in other aspects of production aside from directing. To be coming at the end of Shaw's reign, it was fairly ambitious in that it was shot on location in, as you mentioned, Thailand and Nepal in addition to HK.

    Glad you liked this one, Aaron!

  2. Oh, I loved it, Brian! Glad you inspired me to finally give this one a watch.

    While looking at Kuei Chi Hing's filmography, I realized that I haven't seen any of his other films, which isn't much of a surprise since I'm fairly green when it comes to Hong Kong cinema, although KILLER SNAKES and CORPSE MANIA have both been on my radar for a while now.

    So which scenes from BOXER'S OMEN are from BEWITCHED? Was the wizard/warlock character in BEWITCHED? If so, I need to watch that one ASAP because I enjoyed that character immensely.

  3. The sequence of the two wizards in the airport where Elvis Tsui and Hussein Bin Abu Hassan are dueling is from the ending of BEWITCHED (1981). The wiry wizard, I don't know who he is. He's featured in some of the behind the scenes photos I have, but his name isn't translated into English that I recall. If you're curious about BEWITCHED, the review I did is linked below.


    It's not out here on DVD. It was only released on VCD and DVD in HK and maybe Taiwan. It's OPP currently, but ebay may have some copies and likely somebody has uploaded it on a torrent somewhere no doubt.

  4. I just checked out both your BOXER'S OMEN and BEWITCHED reviews. Well done as usual! Also, the images are quite enticing. I may have to watch more of Kuei Chi Hung's films sooner than later!

  5. I started a Kuei Chi Hung article much like the CC, Sun Chung and Mou Tun Fei ones. I'm trying to get some stuff from some of my magazines translated since Kuei ultimately took over at least two movies started by other directors. These include STRANGER IN HONG KONG (1972) and CURSE OF EVIL from 1982. I've seen the latter, and it's wild as hell in places with its flesh eating frogs kept in a hole and a bizarro, whacked out ending with a "slug monster" and an insane character who gets mega hyper with a meatcleaver.

    His GHOST EYES is pretty strange, but more subdued than his usual output. BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS is awesome with lots of sleaze and action. Some compare it to ILSA, but it was shot and completed two years prior and has more in common with THE BIG DOLL HOUSE than anything else.

    CORPSE MANIA is his Giallo/slasher flick. GODFATHER OF CANTON is bloody as hell, but nothing horror about it. He started a comedy horror flick called THE SEX WOLF in the mid 70s that was never completed and his entry in CRIMINALS 5-TEENAGERS NIGHTMARE is one of the grimiest, sickest pieces of filth filmmaking ever made. He gives Mou Tun Fei a serious run for his money. Speaking of sadists, Mou's films would interest you, too, Aaron, I think.

  6. I'd never even heard of this until I read your review, Aaron. I'm so fickle, it was the images you included that caught my eye. Your enthusiasm for the film is pretty infectious though - I reckon I need to check it out. Loved your description of it as an "Indonesian attempt at recreating the nightmarish visuals of Suspiria."

    Hope you're well!

    1. It's Asian supernatural insanity on celluloid, James. Thanks for stopping by!