Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic [降頭] (2007)
Starring Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Lam Suet, Kenny Wong Tak-Ban, Teng Tzu-Hsuan, Kris Gu Yu, Hui Siu-Hung, Jay Lau Gam-Ling, Kam Loi-Kwan, Fung Hak-On
Directed by Herman Yau
Expectations: Moderate. I love the black magic, and curious to see how a modern, CG-era film can bring the elements together.
Oh boy, did I have high hopes for this one. I may not have expected a whole lot, but I held onto the hope that a 2007 film could push the boundaries much further than an ’80s Shaw Brothers film could, and while that definitely could be the case overall, it is definitely not the case with Gong Tau. This is unfortunate because all the basic pieces of the black magic movie are in place, but instead of compiling them and assaulting the audience with wild, magical antics, Gong Tau instead chooses to try for a more realistic approach. While this might sound like it could take the black magic film into new and interesting territories, it just obscures the awesome of the magic and surrounds it with a whole lot of boring.
Gong Tau‘s story is remarkably similar to Bewitched, probably my favorite Asian horror film from what I’ve seen so far. A policeman travels to Thailand and has an affair, and when he has to return to Hong Kong, he promises that he will return. He doesn’t, and it sends his life into a spiral thanks to the girl’s connections in the black magic world. Kinda. This is one of the stories being told in Gong Tau, and it is ultimately the most important one, but before you get to it you have to wade through a bunch of meandering stuff that is of varying importance. Where the Shaw films presented the setup for why the magic is being laid on its victims up front and at the beginning of the tale, Gong Tau tries to layer it throughout and make it something of a mystery as to who is doing these things to the policeman’s family. While this may work for a first time viewer of a Chinese black magic film, I knew what was going on the whole time, so their obscure storytelling and pointless wondering led me to somewhere a black magic film should never venture: the land of boredom.