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Boxer's Omen, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Barely any boxing, basically bonkers."
4 stars

"The Boxer's Omen" seems like two extremely different movies made into one, much as one character is... No, that metaphor is not quite right, and I am not going to spoil one of the more jaw-dropping moments of complete insanity that this movie offers up, even though that would likely still leave several dozen for the viewer to discover. It is a downright strange movie wrapped in something conventional and almost unrelated, a fine midnight movie if there ever was one.

The boxer is Chan Hung (Phillip Ko Fei), who challenges Thai kickboxer Bu Bo (Bolo Yeung Sze) after the latter's dirty and illegal moves seriously injure Chan's brother. That will be in three months, which is good: Both before and after coming to Thailand to issue the challenge, Chan Hung has had visions which lead him to a Buddhist temple where the monks tell him that their abbot was his twin in a former life, which means that he must become a monk and fight the black magician who cast a killing spell on the abbot for slaying the magician's student...

To say this makes no sense is more than a bit unfair; there is actually a pretty simple "you killed someone close to me and I shall have retribution!" logic going on with all the back and forth, so all the motivations are easy enough to buy into. As to all the reincarnation, transformation, and the evil wizard who seems to be hanging out in the same room as his arch-nemesis... Hey, I don't know that much about Buddhism; this could make at least as much sense as the exorcisms in western horror movies! In all seriousness, On Szeto's screenplay seems to run on completely arbitrary rules, seeming less the result of one or two writers than something handed off between four or five each instructed to the nuttiest thing he or she could come up with. Somehow, he and director Kuei Chih-hung make this flow better than it has any right to.

Perhaps that's because the audience is too busy being gobsmacked by what Kuei puts on-screen. Just in the initial flashback to Abbot Qing Zhao's battle with the black magician and its aftermath includes a demonic-looking altar and a little bat creature that is an obvious puppet in both its forms before it meets a hammer. It's chintzy at times, though those moments mingle with the surprisingly elaborate in a way that makes them more convincing - the slow-moving creature is part of the same world as the half-mummified mentor and the palm-blasting sorcerers. It's just a matter of degree. The while thing is garishly colored and filled with effects that maybe weren't quite top-tier even when new, but work well enough within the movie's tacky 1980s aesthetic.

The movie is also casually gross in ways that western horror movies often aren't. There your regular blood and guts - quite literally, as folks will pull intestines out and just start chowing down, or eat things that had just been regurgitated, and who needs a knife when sacrificial blood is called for? There's a fair amount of skin as well, and the filmmakers make only the barest of excuses - though, to be fair, it does supply some of the thread that just barely tires the crazy black magic stuff to the fairly predictable boxing material.

It's all ridiculous, but it hits the balance between knowing absurdity and stone-faced seriousness much better than most films of its ilk, especially the later attempts to capture its style as an homage or parody. It also doesn't hurt that the American Genre Film Archive's 35mm print actually looks pretty good, putting the lie to any idea that beat-up prints are part of a a midnight movie's charm. And this is a fun midnight movie, crazy enough that being a bit worn out helps, but good enough to laugh with as opposed to at.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23850&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/30/14 20:32:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
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  DVD: 21-Nov-2006

UK
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Australia
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Directed by
  Chih-Hung Kuei

Written by
  On Szeto

Cast
  Philip Ko
  Elvis Tsui
  Ka-man Wai
  Lung-wei Wang
  Bolo Yeung



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