Finger of Doom [太陰指] (1972)
Starring Ivy Ling Po, Chin Han, Chen Feng-Chen, Hung Sing-Chung, Park Ji-Hyeon, Yeung Chi-Hing, Tung Li, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Shum Lo, Lan Wei-Lieh
Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li
Expectations: Fairly high.
Finger of Doom gets points for being different. The film has all the usual trappings of the wuxia genre, but it is actually defined by the elements that make it closer to a horror film. While there have been many horror-themed swordplay films throughout the years, I’m not quite sure how many there were around this time, so Finger of Doom could be one of the first to blend the two genres. In any case, this aspect makes Finger of Doom unique and well-worth a look for any Shaw fan on the hunt for something a little different than the standard wuxia story.
Finger of Doom opens as the Four Heroes of Dragon Hill are tricked into an audience with an errant kung fu master, Kung Suen Mao Neong. Kung quickly subdues the heroes with a flick of her wrist that unleashes her Finger of Doom technique, or in layman’s terms: a small metal spike driven into the base of the victim’s neck. It causes the victim excruciating pain, but after taking a dose of Kung’s antidote the victim is left with no pain or fear of death. Oh, but they’re also under Kung’s control! They effectively become her zombie bodyguards, carrying Kung around in her red wooden coffin during the daytime to shield her from the sun. The kung fu is strong with this one indeed.
It turns out that the Finger of Doom technique is not unique to Kung, though. It was devised by her master, and what’s an aging master to do when one of their pupils ventures out to use their techniques for evil? Send out her brightest student to stop Kung, that’s what! This is where Ivy Ling Po enters the film, complete with her own red wooden coffin and a team of four zombies to cart her around! These people definitely know how to travel in style.
It was at this point (and this is fairly early on) that I got a bit lost in the story of Finger of Doom. I can’t blame it on the story being too convoluted, instead I just think that my wuxia-watching skills have atrophied a bit in the nine weeks since I watched the last film in this review series, The Casino. But what I lost in understanding, the film definitely made up for in entertainment. As a fan of the Shaw Brothers’ later excursions into black magic on film, Finger of Doom felt like something of a precursor to those films. It isn’t particularly nasty like a good black magic movie, but it is filled with excellent, horror-themed imagery and a lot of fun ideas.
Due to the focus on atmosphere and horror elements, the fights in this film are something of a secondary concern. They are well-choreographed and exciting, but they are mere flashes of action to keep the story moving than anything thrilling enough to stand on its own. Pao Hsueh-Li’s camera work is a lot of fun, though, with tons of handheld during the fights. Pao also uses a first-person perspective to great effect, not just showing us a forest and the aftermath of a horrific murder but taking us through it all as an active participant.
It feels like I should have more to say about Finger of Doom, but I just can’t think of anything else to add. Ivy Ling Po is great as our heroine, and with some better fights this could have been a legendary film. As it is, though, it’s still pretty entertaining and fans of both Shaw martial arts and horror films should definitely give it a look.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Griffin Yueh Feng’s The Young Avenger! See ya then!