Hex vs. Witchcraft [邪鬥邪] (1980)
AKA Evil Fighting Evil (Literal Translation)
Starring James Yi Lui, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Booi Yue-Fa, Cheung Miu-Lin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, To Siu-Ming, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Wang Lai, Chan Shen, Ng Hong-Sang, Yeung Hung, Fong Ping, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Lo Meng
Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung
The Hex series is an interesting one, mostly because it’s not really a series in the traditional sense. The tone in Hex is nothing but serious spooks and specters, so the shift to wacky ghost comedy in Hex vs. Witchcraft is a bit jarring and unexplained. And if my information is correct, the final film, Hex After Hex, is even more wacky (which means, based on Hex vs. Witchcraft, it’s going to be VERY WACKY). If this holds true, it seems the Hex series kinda resembles the Evil Dead series’ approach to tone, with the exception that only the second and third Hex films share actors or relate to one another in any way.
Hex vs. Witchcraft is set in modern Hong Kong and our “hero” is Cai Tou (James Yi Lui), a man as unlucky as they come. He’s a compulsive gambler, but like most movie gamblers that aren’t the God of Gamblers, Cai is in deep debt to the local gangster, Brother Nine (Chan Shen). Without going into detail, eventually Cai finds himself married to Liu Ah Cui, the dead daughter of an old man who came to his door after Cai found a bag of gold jewelry that also contained the woman’s spiritual tablet. If I didn’t cut to the chase a bit I’d have to use two or three paragraphs to have the story progression make sense, and that’s neither necessary or fun.
Besides, plot really isn’t this film’s strong suit. There’s a fair amount of character setup and comedy around Cai during the first half, but after that it’s pretty much non-stop ghost possession and wacky comedy. Your tolerance for broad Chinese comedy will dictate whether you enjoy this movie or loathe it, and thankfully I am in the first camp. It’s funny to see elements of Hong Kong horror played for laughs, and while I definitely missed out on more than a few cultural gags, the jokes were generally universal enough to make me laugh out loud many times throughout the film. I don’t care who you are, when the audio of a Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder commercial is cut and timed perfectly to Cai liberally sprinkling and practically bathing his body in the stuff, it’s just funny.
As much as I enjoy laughing, I enjoy witchcraft and crazy Hong Kong visuals more. If they’re unexpected and riding the societal line of taste, I might even laugh more! In this department, Hex vs. Witchcraft is definitely lacking, but to its credit I think the amount of hexes and witchcraft was fine for the type of film they aimed for. It’s a comedy with light supernatural elements, not the other way around, after all. But Kuei Chih-Hung must have known that if he called the movie Hex vs. Witchcraft, and then didn’t deliver some kind of supernatural battle, that Hong Kong horror fans would riot in the aisles.
This climactic Hex vs. Witchcraft finale brings together the ghost possession, the gambling, and the comedy, for an ending that made me forget that my opinion of the film was kind of middling before. It’s not enough to make the movie incredible or anything, but it definitely endeared the film to me. It’s a perfect way to cap it all off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene in some way stoked Kuei’s fire for making a serious, balls-to-the-walls supernatural battle, as seen in his film Bewitched the following year.
Thank God my expectations were more on-track for this “sequel” to Hex. If I didn’t know Hex vs. Witchcraft was a comedy beforehand I might have been utterly devastated throughout the film, hoping for an oozing ghoul to pop out from around every corner. Instead I was treated to many hilarious scenes about penises almost getting cut off, and one where Cai stops mid-cunnilingus to tell the camera how macho he is. So yeah, I laughed heartily and I reveled in the stupidity and lucklessness of Cai, thoroughly enjoying myself. It’s not a particularly great movie, but it’s good for what it is. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!