Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Black Magic 2 (1976)


Directed by Ho Meng Hua

Doctor Zhong Ping moves into a spacious home nestled within a Southeast Asian city where his medical colleague, Zheng Sheng resides. Bizarre, unexplainable maladies have gripped the city and all the clues lead to a frightening brand of black magic, the Tame Head Sorcery. As soon as Zheng and his wife get settled into their home, a mysterious man named Kang spies them at a night club. He then sets about inoculating them into his hellish cult of zombie followers and sex slaves. Those who resist or betray the deadly wizard suffer a horrible death.

With the success of his first foray into the world of the supernatural, Ho Meng Hua decided to dabble in That Old BLACK MAGIC once more with virtually the same movie all over again. The beyond prolific I Kuang once more contributed a script, but it appears he likely spent only a day on it in shuffling the characters and events around from the 1975 original. To compensate, there's more nudity, gore and outright insanity added to the mix. Despite this, Ho's sequel looks and feels slapped together some of the time, reveling in sleaze as opposed to formulating a story around the exploitation elements. Zhong Ping and company run around like an ineffectual Quincy and the Hardy Boys (and girls) digging up dead bodies and clumsily investigating the evil magician without the assist of the police.

Most of the original cast return, although some have taken on different roles. Lo Lieh was a sex starved, if nearly penniless greaseball the first time around. For the sequel, he takes Ku Feng's place as the evil sorcerer. The same rules apply, only here, Lo Lieh's Kang Cong lives a lavish lifestyle, unlike the hut dwelling vagabond of the first movie. There's no motivation given for his character, or what he's doing in the city. He's just there picking people at random, skulking around with that famous, impenetrable scowl as his sole emotional exudation. Kang also lords over an army of undead men and women whom he controls via ten inch spikes hammered into their skulls! The women are used as strip club dancers (including Terry Liu, SUPER INFRAMAN's Princess Dragon Mom) and sex slaves while the men (some of whom have no eyes for reasons that are never explained, although THE DEVIL'S RAIN could have been an influence) guard the mansion and keep inquisitive snoopers from leaving.

The plot, while noticeably darker, is even more anemic this time around with more explanation of the spells and the toll they take on the villain than anything else in the film. There's no love triangles, just a string of interconnecting events. Ti Lung, with about as much do here as before, has less presence. He's no longer a construction worker, but a doctor. Tanny, who played the lusty vixen in BLACK MAGIC, plays his wife here. Lily Li was Ti Lung's betrothed the first time around, yet in the sequel, she's his friends wife. The abundance of nudity and sleaze are the sole attractions and the reason why most fans tend to gravitate towards the sequel. This is exploitation on its purest level, and on that it succeeds admirably. Compared with the better structured first picture, it's inferior, although Ho does manage some nicely atmospheric sequences, most of them coming at the end.

In other role switches, Runme Shaw skipped out on producing this one, so Run Run took his place. One of the Shaw's stable of fine character actors, Yang Chih Ching replaces the affable Ku Wen Chung as the kindly white magic wizard; and like everything else, seems to just be there. There's no characterization to justify his presence outside of the fact that a good wizard was in the first movie. The studios reigning sleaze king, Hong Kong's version of David Hess, Frankie Wei Hung essays the aforementioned sex-starved greaseball role Lo Lieh had in the first BLACK MAGIC. But unlike the previous outing, the use of this character is simply filler and has no bearing on the actual plot.

Like its predecessor, but in a lesser effects driven fashion, BLACK MAGIC 2 starts off with just the right amount of exploitation value with a bunch of half-naked Malay girls being attacked by an intricately designed model crocodile. This opening sequence is the only time an exotic locale is seen with the remainder of the movie taking place in an unnamed metropolis, or as a title card tells us, "A tropical city". All the gruesome insanity aside, BLACK MAGIC 2 never truly rises from the dead till the conclusion when Ti Lung is trapped within Kang's voodoo dungeon lair, chased and attacked by various zombies affording us ample views of Chen Ching Shen's Gothic and moody art decor.

The fiery, rear-projected final sequence looks good by comparison when sized up next to a laughable action-chase sequence wherein Ti Lung pursues Lo Lieh and both end up battling each other in and around a cable car. A glaringly obvious back projected screen attempts to convey the two stars are actually dangling high above the ground. At least the back screen matches the cars attachment to an offscreen cable. This bit of fakery only adds to the "let's get it over with" nature of this production, but also clashes with the hypnotic surrealism the film frequently wallows in.

If you're looking for a no-nonsense, brain-dead piece of escapist entertainment, BLACK MAGIC 2 delivers in droves. It also serves its proper function as sequels should--by doubling up on what made their predecessors a success and putting its cast members into compromising situations they weren't normally found in. Only in Hong Kong at the time could respectable actors and actresses appear in such gory, goofy, sexy trash and maintain their reputations. The Shaw Brothers knew their audience and this lowbrow and plotless example of ghoulish, greasy Chinese take-out serves up plenty of sleaze; and you won't be hungry again five minutes after it's over.

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