Sunday, July 5, 2009

Si yiu (1981)

...aka: Corpse Mania
...aka: Shi yao

Directed by:
Chih-Hung Kuei

A mysterious, well-dressed man has just moved to a small town called Guangzhou with a wife so ill she can't even move. The gossipy neighbor notices he barely ever leaves the house and goes about spying on him; peeping in his window one night and catching the couple having sex. A few days later, a strong odor is eminating from the home, so police bust in and discover a dead, nude and maggot-covered female corpse in the home but no sign of the man. Investigators, led by detective Mr. Zhang (Wong Yung), connect this crime to another similar one where a strangled female corpse showed signs of sexual entry post mortem. Meanwhile, at the Zui Hong House, a brothel, the necro - Mr. Li (Erik Chan Ga Kei) - shows up and bargains with Madam Lan (Tanny, real name Nien Ti) over the price of Hongmei, one of her girls, who's too sick with tuberculosis to work. The two settle on 500 dollars for the trade. Li takes Hongmei (Jenny Liang) as his bride and moves her into a decrepit old home. She dies, a nosy delivery boy catches Li continuing to have sex with her corpse, goes to the cops and has Li arrested. He's promptly sent off to an asylum. Now everyone can sleep safely, right?

Wrong! A serial killer dressed in a blue robe, sunglasses and a top hat - the exact same ensemble Li normally wore (aside from having a white scarf now pulled over the face) begins murdering everyone connected with Madam Lan or her brothel. It's no coincidence that the new series of murders coincide with Li being prematurely released from the asylum, is it? Plot twists abound during a busy ending, which works in elements of blackmail, false identity, corpse swapping and the like.

The first thirty minutes of this Shaw Brothers production are actually quite excellent. It's surprisingly stylish; with excellent cinematography, good use of crane shots, some nice art direction and colorful, stylized lighting choices. There's also excellent use a soft-focus lighting during one standout scene where Li rubs down his newly deceased wife with powder. In addition the necrophile-killer premise set up is pretty intriguing and there's an amazingly disgusting scene of a corpse absolutely infested with maggots. Unfortunately, the film then slips into the routine, drops the necro content for the most part and settles into a mix of slasher scenes, dull police procedural and convoluted plot twists. The stalking / slasher scenes are probably the best the film has to offer during its second half. Most take place at night in empty streets where light reflects from wet cobblestone streets and glares from the killer's knife blade, though even these scenes seem less visually arresting and more repetitive as the film goes on.

Director Chih-Hung Kuei churned out quite a few horror films for Shaw during the early portion of the 80s, including HEX (1980), HEX VS. WITCHCRAFT (1980), BEWITCHED (1981), CURSE OF EVIL (1982) and finally his most famous effort, THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983), which also turned out to be his last film. He retired afterward and passed away in 1999. The cast includes Yau Chui Ling as Lan's adopted daughter Yan-Er and Walter Tso as the police chief. The 2008 DVD release is from Image.


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