Hex [邪] (1980)
Starring Tanny Tien Ni, Wong Yung, Chan Si-Gaai, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Hon Gwok-Choi, Yue Tau-Wan, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Wong Ching-Ho, Yau Chui-Ling, Wong Siu-Ming
Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung
Hong Kong horror films hold a special place in my heart, so it was with uncontainable glee that I started Kuei Chih-Hung’s Hex. But there were two flaws in my basic knowledge of the film that hampered my enjoyment a bit. First, I had assumed it was a black magic film set in the modern era, and second, Hex is way more laid back and reserved compared to some of Kuei’s other films (notably Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). Knowing these things would have helped get me into the right frame of mind for what is ultimately a Hong Kong version of the French classic Diabolique with a bunch of ghost hauntings and the parade of variously colored bodily fluids normally associated with the Hong Kong horror genre.
The film opens with a first-person camera introducing us to the setting of our film: a mansion owned by the illustrious Chan family. The narrator explains that when hard times fell on the Chans, they were forced to arrange a marriage for their daughter Chan Sau Ying (Tanny Tien Ni). Her new husband, Yeung Chun Yu (Wong Yung), comes to live at the family mansion, but prosperity does not follow. Soon they are down to one servant, and the marriage between Chan and Yeung is equally threadbare. They are locked into it, though, due to the marriage being drawn up under the feudal laws which do not allow for divorce. Chan has become horribly ill, and Yeung takes out all of his aggression on Chan and their servant. He’s an incredibly violent dickhead of a character, which always gets me excited for the tables to turn so that he can get his comeuppance.
Without spoiling anything: yes, he does get that comeuppance, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as you might like it to be. But all is not lost, as there is another character around to bear a bigger helping of comeuppance. It’s still much tamer than anything I expected from Kuei Chih-Hung, but that’s more my fault than his. Besides, I can’t complain too much about a movie with the fun, ghostly sights that Hex contains. They may be far and few between, but they are ooey & gooey in ways that only Hong Kong FX can be. Ghosts with skull heads spit blood on innocent bystanders, sleep is interrupted by a visit from an oozing ghost, a corpse is chopped up with a butcher knife into a disgusting mess of green goo… y’know, the usual.
While these moments and many others are interesting and well conceived, by far the most memorable scene in Hex is the climactic naked exorcism scene in a small room, lit only by sunlight streaming through a huge stained-glass window and a couple of candles. A beautiful, fully nude woman, with sigils painted all over her body, dances while an old woman with powers over ghosts commands the spirit to leave the house alone. Of course, words and sigils are not enough to vanquish a powerful phantom, so the old woman begins spitting blood — like A LOT of blood — onto the dancing woman. This is going to sound weird, but the whole scene also carries a distinctly exploitative and weird sexual vibe, culminating with the woman writhing on the floor and smashing her breasts into a pile of recently burned papers. I feel somewhat bad for spoiling the scene a bit, but consider this a warning instead. It’s not the kind of scene you want to explain to someone who walks in on you and innocently asks, “Hey, whatcha watchin’?” before their eyes fall on the chaos occurring on-screen.
Slow as it can be at times, Hex is an effective and entertaining Shaw Brothers horror film, and I look forward to revisiting it with my expectations in the right place.