Starring Lo Lieh, Chen Ping, Ku Feng, Ai Ti, Lam Wai-Tiu, Lau Wai-Ling, Chan Shen, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Yeung Chi-Hing, Helen Ko, Kong Yeung, Teresa Ha Ping, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho
Directed by Chang Il-Ho
Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I love Hong Kong horror.
It’s hard not to be intrigued by a film called Night of the Devil Bride, but I should know by now that a great title does not always equal a great film. In this particular case, it equals an OK movie with untapped potential. Night of the Devil Bride was directed by Korean filmmaker Chang Il-Ho, who also made a couple of mediocre kung fu movies at the Shaw Studio (The Deadly Knives and The Thunderbolt Fist), so maybe I should’ve known better from the start. The film was originally to have been a co-directed affair between Chang Il-Ho and Shin Sang-Ok (the director behind A Thousand Year Old Fox and the lost Shaw film The Bandits), and what remains bears the marks of this. Night of the Devil Bride is not the most cohesive movie, and anytime a movie is only 75 minutes long it’s logical to suspect problems, either budgetary or otherwise.
Night of the Devil Bride begins with moments of tenderness between Shui Lien (Chen Ping) and Kao (Lo Lieh), a married couple living in a modest home outside of town. Shui Lien is afflicted with a bad case of tuberculosis, regularly losing her hair and coughing up blood. The town doctor is treating her, but she’s having a hard time recovering. Since she’s homebound, the film follows Kao as he ventures around town trying to raise funds to support them. But it’s quickly apparent that Kao is not the tender husband he first appears to be, and that in fact he’s willing to do most anything — good or evil — to better his place in life.
The first half of the film continues along this line in a sedate manner, methodically putting the pieces in order to facilitate the almost non-stop supernatural assault that makes up the second half of the film. I want to stress that even though that sounds like relentless fun of the highest order, it’s a lot less effective than that. That’s where the whole “untapped potential” thing comes in. The first problem is that the setup goes on for too long, and if you’re not paying strict attention to every detail it’s easy to miss something key. It’s like a dense wuxia in that way. As much as I like a good, intricate story, it’s all for nothing when many of the threads are resolved unsatisfactorily (with some barely being addressed).
Beyond this, we move through the film without anyone to really latch onto. I felt a lot of sympathy for Shui Lien, but she’s barely in the movie. We end up spending a lot of time with Kao, building up the audience’s resentment and desire to see him face a suitable fate. For me, this was one of those threads without a fitting resolution, and since it’s kind of the whole drive of the movie, it’s hard not to come away from the film feeling unsatisfied. To be fair, Kao is definitely put through the ringer, and it’s all pretty fun, but I needed this devious bastard to learn his lesson in a much fiercer way. He’s too morally depraved to get off without fully learning his lesson (which would, in turn, drive home the moral in a more intense manner). By focusing on his character, our investment in the movie rides on our ability to delight in the inevitable denouement.
The more I think about Night of the Devil Bride, the more it seems like it was a short film expanded into a full feature. For instance, the sub-plot involving Shui Lien’s sister could be completely excised, allowing for a better focus on the core relationship between Shui Lien and Kao. This would leave the film much shorter, and would rob it of some of the ghost madness late in the film, but it would tighten it up considerably. The Shaw Studio made a few anthology horror films, and with some tweaking Night of the Devil Bride could have easily made a potent, electric entry in an anthology film.
But it’s never a great idea to focus on what a film isn’t, so let’s focus on what it is. Did I mention that just about the entire second half is ghost shenanigans? Because it is, and it’s pretty fun. I don’t know that much of it is good enough to really stick with me like some of the wild images of Bewitched, Black Magic or The Boxer’s Omen, but it definitely entertains. The film is filled with male characters who are horrible, ruthless dicks, and the second half sees each one of them assaulted by the ghost done wrong. Not to get off the rails again, but it’s so good a concept that it’s a shame it isn’t more memorable. Kao’s wedding night is pretty spectacular, though, as is the ghost’s use of hair to exact revenge.
Even with the faults, you could do a lot worse than Night of the Devil Bride. Provided you can find a copy (or Celestial releases it digitally!), go into it with an open mind and I think it’ll do the job for its short 76-minute runtime.
Next up from the Shaw Horror library is the 1976 Kuei Chi-Hung film, Spirit of the Raped! See ya then!