East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Unleash the Little Ghost! – The Seventh Curse (1986)

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There was a time, in the 1990s, when I watched an awful lot of Hong Kong movies. With the Hong Kong Handover drawing closer and serious critics suddenly discovering John Woo and Tsui Hark, it was quite easy to get a lot of 1980s Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers flicks. And I really liked some of them, and happily forgot about a lot of others, like, right after the end titles stopped rolling.

One of such forgotten movies came up two days ago in a chat with some friends – having just been reviewed by a popular vlogger – and I said to myself, hey, I saw this one, but I actually can’t remember how it was—let’s see it again!

So, here’s a quick review of that weirdest of things, The Seventh Curse.

The real interesting thing about the movie is, to me and right now, this is the first movie outing of two characters – Wisely & Dr. Yuen – that first appeared in the early ‘60s in a series of novels by author Ni Kuang. Originally serialized in magazines, a total of 141 Wisely (or Wesley, depending on the spelling adopted) novels were published, and a few dozen spin-offs featuring Dr. Yuen. The characters were later featured in radio dramas, movies, TV series, comics and what not.

A pulp output for a very pulpy series, featuring the exploits of a doctor/philanthropist/novelist/adventurer whose main activity is visiting thrilling locations and solving mysteries with a science-fictional or supernatural element.
Indeed, if probably James Bond was the main spark that lit the fuse of the Wisely/Wesley novels, there is ample evidence that the stories soon slid into Doc Savage territory, and there remained for something like forty years.
And why should we complain, if we get the opportunity to see Chow Yun Fat playing the Hong Kong version of Doc Savage?

So, the movie.
The plot in brief: Dr Yuen confronted a deadly cult one year ago, and barely escaped with his life, but now he needs to go back and face the horrors again to get rid of a curse that’s been laid on him.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?
But where the brief synopsis stops, madness begins.
The movie opens with Ni Kuang himself, hanging out in swanky digs surrounded by beautiful women (as we action/pulp writers normally do, you see) that actually asks Wisely (Chow Yun Fat) and Dr Yuen (Chin Siu-ho) to tell about one of their adventures.
So in what is at least technically a flashback, we get

  • Dr Yuen assisting the SWAT in an hostage situation (the female lead, played by Maggie Cheung, is established)
  • Dr Yuen going home to find a naked woman waiting for him (he’s the cool, Bond-style guy, you see), and then a mysterious guy smashing part of his apartment and giving some dire suggestions (the whole curse thing is established)
  • Dr Yuen bedding his naked guest and getting a bad case of exploding knee (the curse!) in the worst possible moment
  • Dr Yuen seeking the help of Wisely, and telling him how he got cursed in the first place.

And here we get a flashback within the flashback, and we learn that Dr Yuen, while on a research trip in Thailand, tried to save a beautiful young woman from being sacrificed to an ancient evil (which of course is the decent thing to do), thus causing destruction, mayhem, the death of a lot of innocent people and getting himself cursed.
At this point the whole party decides to go back to Thailand and solve the problem.

And here I better stop, and just mention worm parasites, bloodthirsty cultists, a bad guy that actually squeezes children in a press to get the components for his spells, a kung fu fighting animated skeleton, and a lot of explosions and fights and random (but fun) destruction.
The whole, in 81 minutes.

The Seventh Curse mixes and crosses genres with abandon – it’s an action fantasy adventure film with a strong horror/splatter element and some rather unsophisticated comedy. It lifts bits and pieces happily from Indiana Jones movies, from The Persuaders, and from Alien, among others.
The action/adventure/horror parts are a lot more effective than the expository passages and the “playboy adventurer in elegant places” bits, that feel rather stilted. And the beginning really feels tacked on.
Chow Yun Fat, in 1986 not yet a household name with film buffs, is good as he usually is. Maggie Cheung is gorgeous, and wasted in a silly, petulant role. Chin Siu-ho is OK.

Is it a good movie?
The first word that comes to my mind is ramshackle. But I guess it is ramshackle good, or at least ramshackle fun.
It’s the sort of story in which superior erudition, derring-do and a panzerfaust prove to be a match for the forces of darkness. Sometimes that’s all we need in a cold winter night.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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