Monday, February 6, 2023

Wolnyeo-ui han (1980)

... aka: 월녀의 한
... aka: 貓妖
... aka: 月女之恨
... aka: Grudge of the Moon Lady
... aka: Mao yao (Cat Demon)
... aka: Night Evil Soul
... aka: Wal-Nyo's Grudge
... aka: Wolnyoui han
... aka: Yue nu zhi hen (Hatred of the Moon Girl)

Directed by:
Sheng-En Chin (credited on HK / Taiwan release)
In-soo Kim
Man-Bo To (credited on HK / Taiwan release)

Here's yet another Asian genre title whose credits, and even its title, really need to be worked out online. You'll get different information depending on where you look. According to the HK Movie Database, this is an entirely Taiwanese production originally released as Mao yao ("Cat Demon") in 1980 and made by three different men: Taiwanese director Sheng-En Chin, Hong Kong-based Man-Bo To and Korean In-soo Kim. We then hop on over to IMDb and see this same film listed twice; once as being from Taiwan, directed by Chuo-Chi Leung and released in 1981 (at least they don't still have it as 1988!), and another time being a South Korean production credited to Kim and with a 1980 release year. Letterboxd also has the film listed two separate times under the same titles, though it credits the Night Evil Soul cut to Chin and To. And then we consult Korean sources and learn this is a South Korean production directed solely by In-soo Kim. So who do we believe here? Certainly not IMDb or Letterboxd since they haven't put two and two together that the two listings are in fact the same film.

Weighing all of the available information, I'm fairly certain the Korean sources are correct. For starters, Kim was one of the most famous genre film directors from this time in his home country so I seriously doubt a film would be falsely attributed to him in their records and on the film's poster. Second, all of the advertising materials, including the HK / Taiwanese theatrical poster, have been derived from the Korean poster. Finally, per Korean, Hong Kong and Taiwanese sources, this made its big screen debut at the Hollywood Theater in Seoul, South Korea on June 14th, 1980. Preventing people like me from clearing this up for good with 100% certainty is that the Korean print, as is often the case, is extremely difficult to find and I can't compare it to the Mandarin-dubbed HK / Taiwanese home video release, which is all that's currently available. The title screen for the latter uses the 貓妖 ("Cat Demon") title along with Night Evil Soul underneath and credits the direction to Chin and To.

So, summing this all up before we get to the actual movie, this was first released in 1980 in South Korea under the title 월녀의 한 and with Kim as the sole credited director. Though Chinese databases list a different cast, nearly all of the names have no other credits and are likely made up, while the few known names associated with it are not actually in it. This was clearly an entirely Korean production, though I'm still going to credit Chin and To as co-directors for the time being simply because I'm unsure whether the version credited to them is any different than the Korean one. That said, I strongly suspect Chin and To's involvement is likely limited to slapping their names on the credits of a film they had no hand in making. Either that or they simply re-edited what Kim had already shot or possibility "directed" the voice actors for the Mandarin dub. Either way, this is Kim's film.

Chih-Hsiung (Bong-jin Jin) is engaged to marry Hui Lien (Jin Her). The two ride their horses to a supposedly cursed lake and find that is indeed cursed. Distorted cries, moans and screams are heard coming from the foggy waters, which cause their horses to buck them off and run away. Hui Lien feels something pulling at her dress, almost as if some kind of invisible force is trying to pull her into the lake. A treacherous storm with high winds soon follows and the two run off looking for shelter. They duck into an abandoned old home with a leaky roof only to find it inhabited by a sinister old man. He invites them to warm themselves by his fire, throws on a skinned, shish kebab'd cat for din din (mmm) and then starts to tell them the entire history of the pond.

One hundred years earlier, a beautiful witch (Hui Yun) traveled there along with her black cat. Being attractive and all, the witch had no issue sparking the interest of men in the area, but problems arose every single time she made love to one of them. And by problems I mean her jealous kitty ripped their throats out immediately after. Seeing how many of the witch's lovers were straying married men, the angry villagers organized a posse, dragged her out of her home, stoned her, hung her from a tree and then threw her body in a casket and covered it with rocks. Her cat was also killed with a samurai sword, but its ghost soon returns, resurrects the witch's ghost and then organizes an army of nearby felines to rain hell upon the village.

The crazy attack scene that follows is going to be hard to stomach for any fellow cats fans in the house. Real cats are flung all over the place, flipped in the air, thrown on the ground, tossed onto roofs, trees and doors and have facial expressions that can only be achieved through either extreme fear or extreme pain being afflicted upon them, so it's pretty safe to say that some of the cats in this were harmed or perhaps even killed, which is going to leave a bad taste in many viewer's mouths. The following day, the survivors exhumed the witch's corpse, cremated it and then scattered her ashes in the pond with the hopes that it would dilute her powers. Obviously that's not what happens at all.

Back to our lovebirds. Chih-Hsiung and Hui Lien may be all smiles, giggles and lovely dovey bashful glances back and forth, but neither realizes there are forces conspiring against them behind their back. The spoiled Mei Yu Wong, daughter of the wealthiest man in the village, is "lovesick" over Chih-Hsiung and now refuses to get out of bed until she can have him. Daddy Wong pays some local goons to go after her. Hui Lien and her father (Il-ju Yoon) attempt to flee, but the thugs catch up them, slash the father to death with a sword, gang rape and kill Hui Lien and then sink her body in the cursed pond (appropriately now called "Black Cat Pond").

Believing Hui Lien has abandoned him, Chih-Hsiung decides to go through with the wedding to Mei Yu. Both Hui Lien and the witch's watery ghost then rise from the pond just in time to keep the newly married couple from fully consummating their relationship. While Chih-Hsiung is on top of his new bride, the witch yanks Mei Yu's head through a hole in the floor, sinks her fangs into her neck and kills her. The witch is back simply to satisfy her grudge against the descendants of the villagers but promises Hui Lien that she will also help her avenge her murder while she's at it. Way to multi-task! Before sinking back into the pond, the witch leaves Hiu Lien's now-revived body lying on the banks.

When Hui Lien is discovered still alive, Chih-Hsiung is ecstatic. He attempts to nurse her back to health but she remains in a cataleptic state. Late at night while he's sleeping, the witch's ghost returns and uses Hui Lien's body to go on a killing spree. She mostly uses her claws to dispatch those responsible for her death, but also utilizes cats and even strangles someone with her hair. Because Chih-Hsiung is busy tending to Hui Lien and doesn't want to believe she's being used as an instrument of evil, his best friend, Kuo Wei (Jin-su An), sets out to stop the evil witch, and an old monk called Great Master finally shows up with his swastika "rosary" to perform an exorcism.

While there's not much new or original going on here (we'll just be generous and call the plot "average"), this is actually pretty damn good! It moves at a fast pace and delivers some pretty potent horror atmosphere, lots of action (including three swordfights), some wacky stunt work and reverse shots, some cool synth music (probably stolen but still great) and plenty of ghostly horror. There's some (thankfully brief) comic relief in the form of pudgy assassin Li Pang (Jong-hwan Kook - DRAGON AGAINST VAMPIRE), who can't keep from molesting one of the servant girls, but otherwise this takes itself seriously and is all the better for it.

Most of the major problems stem from the poor quality of the only available English-language print. As you can see from my screen grabs, it's obviously not in the best of condition, which muddies the visual presentation and downplays both the scenic locations and the vividness of the colors. Another major issue is that the subtitles are cropped off on both sides, making many of the lines unintelligible. 

This VHS print has also been horribly re-edited at some stage, leading to lots of jagged skips and jumps. Most notably, any time the witch is bathing or giving a villager one of her patented red (or in one case, blue) light specials, the camera abruptly cuts away. It also cuts away during a later sex scene, which again indicates the film had nudity at one point in time but it's been trimmed out. I'm not sure if any violence was cut but this doesn't appear to have been a very bloody / gory film to begin with. But it's just good enough to merit a restoration and I'd probably tick the rating up by half a star if one ever becomes available. (Not likely, but you never know!)

The director made a number of other genre films like Evil Spirit (1974), Evil Under the Moon (1981, aka Female Vampire of the Night), Women's Rage in Three Countries (1982), Public Cemetery of Grudges (1983), Cemetery of Beautiful Women (1985), Festival of Fear (1986) and The Maid's Room (1987). While a lot of these sound pretty cool and I'd love to see them, none have ever been released in English and they're very difficult to track down. To my knowledge, most were given just one VHS release in South Korea and that's it.

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