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Gong Tau

(left) An alleyway encounter, and (right) Maggie Siu gets relief in Gong Tau.
AKA: Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic  
Chinese: 降頭  
Year: 2007  
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To  
Producer: Dennis S.Y. Law, Herman Yau Lai-To
Writer: Herman Yau Lai-To, Lam Chiu-Yue
Cast: Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Lam Suet, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun, Hui Siu-Hung, Kris Gu Yu, Teng Tzu-Hsuan, Pauline Yam Bo-Lam, Lau Kam-Ling, Fung Hak-On
The Skinny: Party like it's 1996! The nifty curses and gleefully over-the-top violence and gore should satiate those jonesing for this hallowed Hong Kong Cinema genre. There have been more compelling Category III films but this should suffice for now.
by Kozo:

They really don't make them like this anymore. Herman Yau's Gong Tau is a slick and enjoyable Category III exploitation thriller that's better than similar genre entries in recent years - though that's largely because there haven't been any similar genre entries in recent years. Mark Cheng stars as tough cop Rockman, who's actually named Lok-Man, but we'll go with his name from the English subtitles because it's just so damn fun. Rockman gets drawn into a doozy of a case when two cops are killed, and his wife Karpi (Maggie Siu) and son terrorized in his home.

The smart bet on the culprit is at-large criminal Lam Chiu (Kenny Wong Tak-Bun), who once took a bullet to the head from Rockman and can no longer feel any pain. Lam Chiu has a thing against the cops, but he also has skills with "Gong Tau", the eastern variant of voodoo. Gong Tau gets invoked because the cops were killed in disturbingly ritualistic ways, and Karpi seems to be suffering from seemingly psychosomatic injuries and phobias. Rockman is loath to believe it, but his wise partner Sum (Lam Suet) knows the answer: it is Gong Tau. He repeats this numerous times with the stone-faced gravity of a prime-time newscaster: "It is Gong Tau." That's screenwriting for you.

And boy, is Gong Tau some icky stuff. Basically, it works like voodoo, i.e. you take a little straw doll, enchant it using the victim's hair, and then start sticking some needles into it. However, there's also some other stuff involved, including mashed up centipedes, fresh semen, seared corpse fat, and other nasty ingredients that may make you wish you had skipped your meal prior to seeing the film. With the Gong Tau powers firmly in place, the evil individual can inflict pain and even death on their targets. The initial result involves Karpi not being able to lie down because she always feels as if she's lying on a bed of needles. She ends up spending her days in the hospital hunched over her serving tray, unable to sleep properly.

However, that's only the beginning of the Gong Tau craziness. Karpi's afflictions are bad enough, but they should be curable with an anti-curse, right? Wrong. There's even more dangerous Gong Tau at work here, namely Flying Head Gong Tau, which - besides involving someone's hovering noggin - is far deadlier than your standard Gong Tau. Here's how it works: if the wizard removes his head, he suddenly becomes even more powerful, plus he can fly around and latch onto your neck like an overgrown head-shaped leech. Also, the wizard can't be killed before you work an anti-curse, or you'll spend the rest of your days with Gong Tau hanging over your head. Can Rockman and friends decurse Karpi before the wizard kills her or they kill him?

Gong Tau is clearly aimed at a specific audience, and not your general audiences who thought Love is Not All Around was actually a good movie. Hong Kong Cinema's unique over-the-top horror genre and its unbelievable excesses earned plenty of fans during the Shaw Brothers era, what with titles like Black Magic (which also possesses the Cantonese title Gong Tau) and The Killer Snakes charming local moviegoers with their sick sensibilities and overdone gore. The genre really went insane in the early nineties with stuff like The Eternal Evil of Asia (which featured plenty of Gong Tau goodness), as well as Herman Yau's own efforts The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome, both of which served up over-the-top gore with a surprising sense of humor. The general idea behind these sorts of films is cheap, fast, and sometimes sleazy, though Yau added some satire and a sick sense of humor to the mix.

Yau's return to the genre is more subdued than his earlier efforts, and is directed in an evenly-paced fashion that downplays the over-the-top nature of the story and gore effects. There isn't any satire going on here, as the plot deals with little besides the case and its slowly-revealed backstory. The acting is also rather subdued, with the notable exception of Maggie Siu, who freaks out nearly every other minute of her screen time. Mark Cheng, Lam Suet and Kenny Wong are all amusing in their square-jawed seriousness, and deliver such zinger lines as "My wife has Gong Tau," and "Lend me your meat," with the gravity of serious thespians. The actors behave super-seriously, but the over-the-top curses, blood and gore shatter any notion that Gong Tau should be taken seriously. The comedy lies in the deadpan silliness of all the over-the-top depravity and darkness. Basically, Gong Tau is darkly fun stuff, though straight-laced audiences may simply be put off by what's going on.

But hey, the type of people who like these movies are perfectly comfortable with who they are - and if that describes you, then you should rejoice, because Gong Tau is the blood-and-semen milkshake that should satiate your Category III lust. Many of the initial Gong Tau curses aren't necessarily gory or gross, but the collateral damage sure is. Gong Tau serves up a full course meal of unnecessary gore, including mutilated babies, a graphic autopsy, centipedes nesting in a person's innards, seared body parts, bludgeoned and bloodied limbs, and even a CGI-enhanced decapitation that involves a willing participant. In addition, there's copious nudity from actress Teng Tzu-Hsuan, who appears in numerous grey-toned flashbacks in Thailand, where we learn who, what and why this whole mess 'o curses is going on. It appears the filmmakers were really thinking of audience needs when they made this picture.

Gong Tau is still a step below the classic examples of this genre. The actual storyline doesn't diverge from usual genre conventions, and is ultimately quite forgettable. Also, the CGI is sometimes fake-looking, with the flying Gong Tau head effect being the front-runner for this year's funniest special effect. As a complete motion picture, Gong Tau is lacking. But really, who cares? This isn't a film requiring an ace narrative or storytelling. This film is all about the wild moments and sick anticipation, and Gong Tau has plenty of both. And even if the film isn't that spectacular, the simple fact that they're making it should be a welcome thing for longtime Hong Kong Cinema aficionados. The film really doesn't hold a candle to the sick thrills of Yau's previous efforts, but given the current state of the genre - which is complete nonexistence - Gong Tau easily earns a mutilated, freshly-bloodied thumbs up. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Asia Video
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen