Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Death wears a Monk suit: Phantom Killer (1981)

Phantom Killer (Fen Ku Lou) (Hong Kong, 1981)
Rating: ***
starring:  Pai Wei, Nora Tsang and Shaw Yin Yin

((A Kung-Fu slasher?! Thank you, A Slash Above-sensei! HAI-YA!))

In a local town in period China, one Master Siu became the town's favorite visitor after he seemingly help defeat the bandits that once terrorized the community. What should have been a casual visit for him turns for the bad as women he rejected many moons ago are being killed off by a skull-headed monk known as The Phantom Killer. Though he was suspected, Siu agreed to join a local detective in search of the perpetrator, who may or may not be the estranged potter, the bandit leader seen skulking around, or perhaps a jealous lover from before...

How can I describe this movie? As direct as possible, it's a slasher film with lots of high-kicking action and choreography; mixing the usual slasher plot of a vengeful killer loose slaughtering female victims, with that of kung-fu action movies and a murder mystery angle. Not bad of a hybrid if you ask me, but those who're into straight slashers maybe a little disappointed as majority of the play leans more to the fights than the actual killings. True, we have a masked killer and a very fair bodycount, but most of time we'll be watching an old man do flying kicks and dodges against a killer who apparently knows martial arts, too. A trait that predates flying-kicking slashers like that gasmask killer in Sweden's Insane (2010) or even that of the obscure junk Junior (2002) (AKA "Engine Trouble").

What is good about Phantom Killer is that, despite trying its best to keep a straight face and follows its plot without straying much, it did take turns dipping into some cheese with the funny dialogue and kooky characters popping up as either red herrings or possible murder suspects. No character is boring and the movie paces itself quite nicely to a twist reveal that's awfully good. The fight scenes too are fun to watch and this is coming from a guy who hardly watches Kung-fu movies. Though, some of the choreography can be a bit off, it's still passable.

My only complain about Phantom Killer is that there's a problem with the movie's lighting. Some of the scenes that took place at night are actually badly lit; hardly anything or nothing at all can be seen in these scenes, which is a pain since some of the fights and kills occurred during these and I had to rewind the movie over and over just to make sure I understood what happened.

The love angle of the movie is also cheesy to an awful sense; not saying it isn't funny, but rather it hardly works at all with the killings and investigations going on. (The film also stole the Phantasm theme and plays it whenever Siu's around for some reason. Ticks me off at one side since I'm a huge Phantasm fan, and chuckled on another since it kinda fits the situation.)

As a fun B-flick, it hits the mark just right. It's cheesy as the yellow moon and as out-of-the-wall as the ones they kicked open in the movie, Phantom Killer may not be the most loyal to the build-up, but as hybrid, you could certainly give this one a try!

1 female found with puncture wounds on her neck
1 female gets a clay claw stabbed to her chest
1 male stabbed with dagger
1 male stabbed with dagger
1 male stabbed with dagger
1 male stabbed with dagger
1 male had his face clawed
1 female ingests poison
1 male hanged
1 male killed offscreen
1 male gets a dagger to the gut
1 female found dead
1 male smashes through wall
1 female dagger to the gut
total: 14
What is this I don't even...

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