(A.k.a. XIE [original title])
Opening male narration welcomes in to a tour of a seemingly deserted mansion, within which we're assured their lies "a mysterious myth". Elaborating further, our storytellers speaks of the Chan family - once-wealthy salt merchants who fell on hard times and married off their only daughter, Sau Ying (Ni Tien), to Yeung (Yung Wang).
Upon the deaths of her parents, Sau Ying falls ill with a lung infection while Yeung becomes an abusive, prostitute-frequenting drunk. We first experience him beating Sau Ying's maid, Ah Sim, up for having accidentally spilt his wine; moments later, as Sau Ying crawls feebly across her bedroom floor, he watches his ailing wife impassively before accusing her of "putting on a show" and leaves her there.
He's embittered because the family he married into, to carry on their lineage, no longer relies on the dozen servants it once did. Where once there was money, there is now only poverty.
Ah Sim soon resigns, tired of being Yeung's punchbag. Sau Ying fears that this will leave her alone with the uncaring brute - but, a short while later, there is a knock at her door. Standing there is Leung (Szu-Chia Chen), who professes to be the daughter of Madame Fook, who previously worked for Sau Ying's late mother. Sau Ying vaguely remembers such a person, and welcomes Leung into her home.
Leung tells of her own late mother was indebted to the generosity afforded to her by the Chan family, and that her dying wish was that her daughter call by the mansion and pass on her gratitude. Noticing that Sau Ying is ill, Leung offers to stay and tend to her. Somewhat bemused by the offer, Sau Ying agrees.
Leung is a faithful servant, even sticking around after her calamitous first meeting with a pissed-up Yeung.
Yeung's abuse continues as the two ladies' bond grows. Eventually, inevitably, things have to come to a head - and the two women end up drowning Yeung during a scrap. They dump his body in a nearby lake.
It's all very LES DIABOLIQUES up until this point, and that film - a bona fide classic - is undeniably a huge influence here. But, to its credit, HEX takes a turn towards the extraordinary during its second act. This begins with some jarring hauntings where Sau Ying is visited at night by a pasty-faced ghoul accusing her of murder.
Leung stays loyally by Sau Ying's side as the weird events continue, of course, but ... can she be trusted? Can anyone be trusted? Is Yeung even dead?
You may think you know precisely where this one is heading but brace yourself for the climax that you've been expecting coming a lot sooner than you'd think, and the story taking flight from there onwards with some seriously spooky ghostly shenanigans (marred only occasionally by silly slapstick comedy relief) and a seriously fucked up final fifteen minutes which will delight lovers of absurd cinema everywhere.
Lavish production designs, lovely camera work, inventive camera angles, misty locales, Bava-esque use of atmospheric colours ... the 1980 Shaw Bros film HEX, directed by Kuei Chih-Hung, is an expertly paced period drama which quickly evolves into a stylish, absorbing horror yarn complete with jump-scares, a bombastic soundtrack and even occasional ghoulish shrieks in the night. Once the hauntings begin (I don't want to give away too much), it pretty much never lets up during its final half.
Performances range between those that are solid and those that are silly (the latter being peripheral players who have clearly been drafted in to provide comic relief). The whole thing feels like an agreeably bizarre marriage of Hammer horror visuals and lurid 70s horror tropes. And that final act ... wow. Expect lots of dancing, nudity and mania.
88 Films bring HEX to the UK as a dual-format blu-ray and DVD combo release. The discs are encoded to regions B and 2 respectively.
I viewed the blu-ray for the purpose of this review.
The film is presented uncut - 94 minutes and 32 seconds - as an MPEG4-AVC file in full 1080p HD resolution. Its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been preserved and, following a slightly murky opening titles sequences, the picture soon settles down into a very healthy-looking restoration indeed. Blacks are a tad faint by their very nature, but colours are pronounced, depth and texture impress and flesh tones remain convincing throughout. Devoid of noise or crushing, imbued with a keen eye for fine detail, this is a great transfer for such a little-seen film. Some scenes do exhibit a soft hue but this appears natural and is not uncommon of its time - it's akin to, say, a Just Jaekin or Walerian Borowczyk movie if the era, all diffusion in some instances.
Chinese 2.0 audio gets an uncompressed mix and sounds very healthy indeed. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The static main menu page does not include a scene selection option but the film can be traversed by way of chapter stops.
I didn't expect much in the way of extras, but we do get some good stuff here.
"The Studio that Conquered a Continent" is an enormously enjoyable 23-minute featurette which finds Asian film expert Bey Logan sitting beside a poster of BLACK SHAMPOO while extolling the virtues of the Shaw Bros. His opening gambit, that the team are the "greatest filmmaking machine in the history of the industry", may sound a little on the bold side to begin with - but he swiftly sets about building a convincing argument to back his statement up. We get s good pit-stop history of Asian action cinema and an engrossing, detailed account of how the Shaw Bros revolutionised everything that had come before them - not just in terms of action, production values and the choreography of martial arts, but also in terms of gender roles and storylines that ran a little deeper in terms of theme. With loads if interesting stills throughout, along with welcome clips from the likes of FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS and - of course - HEX, this is great fun. Logan covers much more than the central subject too: he even segues into discussing John Woo's early films at one point, along with the similarities between the Shaw Bros' world and that of the Italian exploitation cycle.
Logan returns for the 6-minute "Hong Kong Movie Language". In this, he enlightens us on why Mandarin became the chosen language of films such as ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN.
The original trailer for HEX is an enjoyably fast-pasted, colourful 70-second affair which, curiously, carries a 2004 copyright brand on it.
The DVD contains all of the above content, albeit in standard definition.
An attractive colour collectors' booklet entitled "Spellbound" is 8-pages strong, and features thoughts on both this film, the Shaw Bros' place in Asian cinema and the styles they made their own. "Prepare to be bedevilled" promises, in anticipation of viewers experiencing HEX. Indeed.
We also get a double-sided cover, the reverse of which features the beautiful original Hong Kong poster art.
HEX is a great film which stands the test of time well. It deserves a larger audience. Hopefully 88 Films' excellent dual format release will make this so.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|
|see main review|