aka Ren pi deng long
Director: Chung Sun
Cast: Tony Liu, Kuan Tai Chen, Lieh Lo, Shawn Yin Yin, Ni Tien, Linda Chu
Image Entertainment / Region 1 / Unrated / 2.35:1 widescreen / MANDARIN: Dolby Digital Stereo / Subtitles: English, Spanish / 99 minutes / PURCHASE FROM BOULEVARDMOVIES.COM
Disk Extras: Interview With Shawn Yin Yin / The Skin Peel Scene Alternate Take / Production Stills Gallery / Trailers
Sir Run Run and Runme Shaw are the brothers behind the biggest movie studio in the Far East, Shaw Brothers Studio. The studio started under the parent company “Shaw Organization” in Singapore, 1924 as South Sea Film but later changed to “Shaw Brothers” probably because of the success of the American Warner Brothers, after whom they would model their logo. The studio is known for developing the first film with sound in Hong Kong in 1934, but even with thousands of films under their umbrella the movies fell into obscurity until Celestial Pictures acquired the rights in 2000 for home distribution. Now twelve years later, I finally jump on the Shaw train with possibly their most well-known horror entry, Human Lanterns.
Lung and Tan are rich dudes who have nothing better to do than be bitter rivals over everything; banging chicks, fighting and uh, lantern making. The annual lantern festival is coming up and each of the two manly men are chomping at the bit to outdo the other with their fancy lanterns. So Lung (the real dick of the story) finds his lamp dealer and tells him that he has to have a mack-daddy one this year so he can beat Tan. The dude directs him to Chun-Fang, a recluse who actually makes them and they recognize each other as former romantic rivals. Fang still holds a grudge but says he will make the lantern. Soon people close to both Lung and Tan begin to disappear or show up murdered in brutal ways. The viewer knows it’s Fang dressed as a skull-faced yeti ninja thingie but it’s somehow a mystery to everyone else including the village idiot cop, Officer Poon (no kidding).
The story is actually pretty well told but the real appeal for this flick is the king-fu action and shocking violence. The look of Human Lanterns reminded me a lot of films I have seen from Bollywood. Lavish costumes and sets that sometimes look like they were shot on a stage which made them look fake and surreal. The lighting was also very moody and made some of the shots, like in Fang’s underground lair, intensely creepy. If you haven’t guessed by the summary and title, the lamps being made here by serial killer Chun-Fang (aka Ed Gein-san) are covered by human skin. So in order to get that skin, he ties people to a pole and uses a semi-circular bladed knife to flay his victims which is portrayed in pretty graphic detail. This is only shown on the Image Entertainment disk as the Asian releases all had the gory parts edited out. I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t more nudity, aside from a quick topless shot of a woman right before she’s murdered.
For my first Shaw Brothers movie, I think I picked a good one. It was a mishmash of kung-fu action and atmospheric horror with great pacing and lots of cheesy, overacting fun. My buddy is a huge Shaw Brothers fan and he suggested I check out the martial arts epic 36 Chambers of Shaolin, a Shaw classic. I do believe I will be seeking out a lot more of their films since so many of them are now out on DVD from assorted distribution companies here in the U.S. If all of the image transfers are as good as this one, I will be very happy to collect as much of the library as I can.