THE BOXER’S OMEN is one of these movies I’ve had recommended to me for years but for some reason never listened. I guess everybody just talked about how FUCKIN CRAZY it was, and I like FUCKIN CRAZY but sometimes a man needs more. For example (HERESY ALERT this paragraph) I couldn’t get into that beloved Japanese freakout available from Criterion, HOUSE or HAUSU. It is indeed unique and goofy and graphically fun, but feature length? I think that’s the ultimate example of a movie that if I stumbled across it on TV at 2 am and had never heard of it it would seem like the greatest achievement in the history of cinema, but when I intentionally sit down to watch it as a real movie I have a hard time getting through it.
Maybe that’s what I was worried BOXER’S OMEN would be. Then I was looking at the box and it said Bolo Yeung was in it so of course I rented it. Why didn’t you say so?
Bolo’s the first thing we see in the movie, but as usual he’s playing the unsportsmanlike opponent of the hero. He’s the Thai boxing champion who’s KOd by the Hong Kong champ, but wakes up and kicks him in the back of the head, fracturing his neck.
The champ’s brother Hung (Phillip Ko, EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER) has to get revenge on Bolo, but he happens to be going through some weird shit. He’s a suave criminal who gets betrayed and hung upside down with his head dipping in a bucket when he’s magically rescued by what seems like a hallucination of a monk. While in Thailand to challenge Bolo he has more visions that lead him to a Buddhist temple, where he learns that in a past life he was twins with this monk who’s having trouble attaining immortality because of a feud with a black magic wizard (who he attacked at the airport, which reminded me of the witches in MOTHER OF TEARS).
They bring Hung to talk to the monk, who is dead but posed like he’s sitting to meditate, and he sort of comes to life to talk to him and tell him what’s what. If the monk’s body decomposes that will kill Hung, so he gets drawn into some kind of intense wizard duel of sorcery and magic. Man, if it’s not cancer it’s something like this.
This is where the FUCKIN CRAZY part comes in, and this is most of the movie. It abandons the real world for a soundstage full of demon statues, giant human hands and magic runes where a long series of bizarre rituals are performed. In the airport attack the black magic wizard is turned into an old lady, but a cute puppet bat comes out of her mouth, so the monk takes it home and ritualistically sacrifices it with a magic dagger, so the wizard spits blood on it and chants and resurrects it as a skeleton and makes it march around and later more of these bats come out of the eyes of a bunch of crocodile skeletons and he cuts off the head of a rooster and sprays blood all over them and commands them to chomp their way into battle. You know, that kind of thing.
The thing that really fucks up Hung and the dead monk is when the wizard guy crawls on the ceiling while the monk is asleep and lowers two evil spiders that spit poison needles into the monk’s eyes. But, you know, they have various battles throughout the movie involving not just the bats and tarantulas but also rats, snakes, rotting human heads, meal worms, killer caterpillars, piles of bubbling slime that grow into a weird green flying alien head with a wiggly tentacle…
…a burning tree, a glowing, crying mushroom, talking statues, magic crystals, projectile hands, etc. And after some of this type of shit they win the duel. The day is saved. Hung gets to go home.
So it’s been a few months and Hung gets back to his girlfriend in Hong Kong. He’s exhausted, bald like a monk, disavowing vanity, living a clean life and feeling great about it. This experience seems like it’s made him a better man. And they have welcome home sex in the shower.
Here’s the trouble with that. Monks take a vow to be celibate. He was living like a monk when he was out there at sorcery camp, but now that he’s back to reality he’s not gonna stick with that shit. Unfortunately that impurity or whatever opens him up to warlock curses. He has his match against Bolo and he does well, but then all the sudden he’s totally blind.
Well ,this is what he sees:
That’s not spaghetti, that’s worms. This is his life now, 24 hour worm blindness. Somehow he manages to get back to the temple in Thailand (he’s surprisingly nimble jumping off a canoe for a guy that sees nothing but worms) to ask the monks for help. Sure enough it was the doing it that caused the problem, a different type of sex = death than in the slasher movies. Once the monks find out they don’t want anything to do with him so he runs in to where the monk’s corpse is and wrecks his shit until he starts talking again and they go to a big Buddha head with a tree growing out of one eye hole and make a plan to defeat the wizard (it involves cutting open his arm and sewing a magic iron amulet that he got from a mushroom inside his flesh and stealing the holy ashes of a reincarnated monk).
In the final battle there’s a lady involved. Already while he was fighting Bolo the fucking wizards were preparing this new curse. See, what you do, you catch a crocodile, right? And you slit its belly open. Then you pull out all the guts and you put a slimy mummified body (or something shaped like a body?) inside the croc’s belly and sew it up using its guts and then later you open it up again and take the body out and it’s covered in caterpillars and you hose it off and then you chew up and spit out a whole bunch of rotten meat and drurians and other disgusting things and force feed it to the body and it turns into this lady with metal claws and you train her to want to kill the monk using a dummy with a picture of his face attached.
Remember that trick. A little knowledge for you aspiring warlocks out there, that’s how you do it.
After seeing this I realize that the weird magic duel in the Steven Seagal/Ching Siu Tung joint BELLY OF THE BEAST could be inspired by this, but as much as I love that movie and those scenes they can’t compare. More than that, though, this reminds me of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, the alchemy scene in particular. Your huge, stylized sets full of ancient symbols and strange architecture, and your complex, bizarre, sometimes disgusting rituals that just happen in front of us with no explanation. Of course, Jodorowsky’s story is more laden with spiritual symbols and satirical subtext, this is just a real fancy and insane way for a couple guys to fight each other.
This is a Shaw Brothers movie, but there’s very little martial arts. Instead it’s heavily choreographed magic battles. For every move there’s a countermove. At the end this lady shows up and fires her hands off like a giant robot, they grab onto his pecs like Janet Jackson on the cover of that magazine. But she’s no match, she gets her skin torn right off so she looks like Slim Goodbody or Julia from HELLRAISER. And I really do wonder if Clive Barker could’ve seen this movie, which came out a couple years before HELLRAISER. Probly not, but it has some stuff that really reminds me of the great scene where Frank reconstitutes himself from drops of blood on the floorboards.
Blue paint pours out of her crotch, she gives birth to three little crawling sac babies, turns to sugar that melts away in time lapse as meal worms eat it, then the babies crawl away and grow into the warlock and his two homeboys, and they’re mummy-wrapped in Saran Wrap, and they commit ritual suicide and turn into, uh, these guys:
…who shoot electric eye beams at the eyes of a Buddha statue and cause an earthquake and the statues start moving and things blow up and a beam of light goes onto Hung and (spoiler) the needles come out of his eyes. You know how it is. It’s another one of those movies.
That was pretty amazing but in my opinion the best move was not a winning move, it was the part where the warlock concentrated real hard and it made his head lift off and rip itself off and then it levitated across and wrapped the hanging viscera around the monk’s head.
Now that’s a fuckin move, man. If Bolo had learned that he would’ve won.
Hung is a big shot gangster, not an everyman, but he spends so much time under the moon with slimy things and laser beams shooting around and worms and temples and shit that it must be total mental whiplash to just be, like, on a street or in an apartment or something. Or even a boxing ring. He doesn’t really get to be in the normal world that much. In one scene where he is he’s staying at a hotel, but he wakes up and pukes out an eel.
So I really love the ending where he finally wins the battle, gets the needles out of his eyes and then he immediately stands up in the middle of all these monks and just struts out. Like, I’m done with this shit. They’re all orange, he’s blue, he’s lit different from them, he completely stands out in the shot. Part of a different world, which he’s going the hell back to right fucking now.
There’s no way anybody can blame him, but it’s too bad. He gave the spiritual world a real shot, and it seemed like it would be good for him. Maybe this was just the wrong monk to be past life twins with.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.