Directed By: Sun Chung
Starring: Liu Yung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Lo Lieh, Tanny Tien Ni
Chen Kuan-Tai – Tan
Tanny Tien Ni – Lung’s wife
Lo Lieh – Chao Chun-Feng
Liu Yung – Lung Shu-Ai
Tan and Lung, two of the leading lights of the community, are constantly trying to one up each other. Everything they get involved in becomes a competition. Even the New Year’s Day lantern competition. Lung’s effort to beat Tan’s beautifully crafted entry has a grisly outcome, but you can be assured that everything will be resolved with an epic kung fu battle.
Tan, Chen Kuan-Tai, is hosting a banquet to show of his entry for the New Year’s Day lantern competition. He has had it specially crafted in the capital and is showing it off early to make his victory over Lung, Liu Yung, the previous winner, all the sweeter. Not content to rub Lung’s face in the new lantern Tan is also showing off his new mistress, who just happens to be the object of Lung’s attention at the local brothel. The lantern Lung could take good naturedly, after all he just commission a better one, but Tan stealing the affection of his favorite play thing is too much though and Lung ends up making a scene even with his wife, Tanny Tien Ni, looking on.
After leaving the banquet Lung goes to visit the craftsman that he has commissioned to build the previous winners of the lantern competition. The old craftsman reveals that he is not actually the one who makes the lanterns. Lung bribes the old man into revealing who the true craftsman is. Lung is shocked to discover that the true craftsman is an old adversary, Chun-Fang, played by Lo Lieh, a man that he defeated and scarred years ago and Lung had assumed dead. Lung manages to convince Chun-Fang to put old animosities behind them and to make him a lantern grand enough to defeat Tan. Once Lung has convinced Chun-Fang to make the lantern Lung insists on taking Chun-Fang to the brothel to celebrate. After Chun-Fang is dragged off by several of the girls, Lung’s old favorite makes an entrance. Lung angrily confronts her in front of everyone, before they reconcile in private.
The next morning the Tan’s new mistress, after Lung has left her, comes up missing. Once the authorities have interviewed the Madame and Tan about last nights happenings Lung is a suspect. Lung is sure that Tan has spirited her away to make him look bad and Tan is sure that Lung has done the same to spite him. The tension between the two, already nearly boiling comes to a head when Tan’s sister goes missing and Lung’s wife is kidnapped. Lung and Tan are sure the disappearances have been orchestrated by the other, but the title of the film gives a hint to what their true fate is. As the tension builds and the truth is revealed everything is resolved in an epic kung fu battle just like you would expect from a Shaw Brothers movie.
The Shaw Brothers made all kinds of movies, on this side of the Pacific though the Shaw Scope logo means one thing, kung fu. Human Lanterns though is a cross of horror and martial arts movie. Sun Chung does an excellent job of using the camera and the score to make the horror elements creepy, but the demands of the different genres don’t weave together into a whole, but even if the movie is not quite unified stylistically it’s still entertaining and a lot of fun. It’s a beautiful movie in typical Shaw Brothers style the sets are detailed and gorgeously decorated, the scenes masterfully lit and shot. The fight scenes are few but brutal, especially the final battle which in many ways is almost Peckinpahesque.
The video is presented in wide screen format and is beautiful. It’s really a treat to see a Shaw Brothers movie that has been lovingly transferred from a clean fresh print. There are no scratches, dirt or washed out colors you get from a worn out print. I never noticed any moiré, aliasing, blooming or other compression artifacts. This is a beautiful transfer.
The only audio option is stereo in the original Mandarin with English and Spanish subtitles. It’s a good mix that’s clean and balanced and shows off the score that’s a great mix of the traditional music you would expect in a period kung fu movie and creepy atmospheric horror soundscapes.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in a clear Amaray case that shows off the double sided insert art. The artwork is cool and doesn’t give you any doubt about what to expect from the movie. There are a few extras; an interview with Shawn Yin Yin one of the female victims in the movie. It’s an interesting interview but only tangentially connected to the movie. There is an alternate take of the skin peel scene but you really have to watch closely to see the difference between the two. There are some production stills and a ton of trailers. Normally I don’t consider trailers to really count as a bonus feature but there are nearly thirty Shaw Brothers trailers on this DVD, I’m sure I’ll hit the “Play All” for the trailers at least as often as I watch the movie.
For any Shaw Brothers fan there really isn’t a question, your going to want this. For the more casual martial arts movie aficionado it’s a little bit of a harder call. While the kung fu mayhem in the movie is of the highest quality there’s not as much as in a more typical movie of the genre and while horror elements work well in the context of the movie you’re probably going to be disappointed if your expecting a straight up horror movie. Horror and kung fu mix together alright but they don’t go together like peanut butter and jelly, but if your in the mood for something a little different, something a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, this might be the prefect fit.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10