EVIL Lights Up When Peeling Skin! “Human Lanterns” reviewed! (88 Films / Blu-ray)



Own this beautiful release from 88 Films of the “Human Lanterns”

Two respected and wealthy Kung-Fu masters have a long rivalry, trying to one-up each other at any cost even if that means stooping into their personal life to gain the most public admiration.  With the annual lantern festive approaches, to have the best and brightest lantern would sustain at least a year of gloating over the other master.  When a lantern maker with a retaliation mindset against one of the more boastful masters is hired to make his festival entry, the lantern maker exacts horrifying revenge by fueling their feud behind the scenes. Kidnapping beautiful women who are dear to each master and exploiting their soft delicacies for his crazed creations, the maniac lantern maker turns the village upside down, forcing the local constable into an impossible investigate into the village’s most popular residents when none of the evidence points to the other.

“Ren pi den long,” aka “Human Skin Lanterns,” aka “Human Lanterns” is a grisly Kung-Fu murder-mystery that’ll make your skin crawl right off from your body. The stylishly colored and ethereally varnished 1982 Hong Kong film is written-and-directed by Taiwanese director Chung Sun (“Lady Exterminator) that blended the likes of a giallo mystery into the well-choreographed martial arts mania with the profound Kung-Fu screenwriter, Kuang Ni (“The One-Armed Swordsman,” “The Flying Guillotine”), co-writing the script alongside Sun. While not as ostentatiously gory or as cinematically profane as the 80’s released Category III certified films that rocked Hong Kong audiences, and the censor board, with shocking, gruesome imaginary and content, “Human Lanterns” does sit teetering on the edge with mostly a tame Kung-Fu feature that quickly turns into the blistering carnage of a basket case, or in this a lantern maker, who uses hiding as a double entendre. “Human Lanterns” is a Shaw Brothers Studio production executively produced by the oldest of two brothers, Rumme Shaw, and, then new to the Shaw Brothers’ board of directors, producer Mona Fong.

“Human Lanterns” starred two the renowned names in martial arts films from the 1970s and well into the 1980s with “Fist of Fury” and “The Swordsman and the Enchantress’s” Tony Liu as the impeccably arrogant Lung Shu-Ai with a self-image to protect more than the women in his life and “Bloody Monkey Master” and “Return of the Bastard Swordsman” Kuan Tai Chen sporting a sweet mustache as Lung’s longtime rival, Tan Fu. Shu-Ai and Chen have really spot on, well-versed, fight sequences together braided into their play off each other’s character’s haughty personas. While behind the curtain of overweening and defiance between the two masters, Chao Chun-Fang unceremoniously sneaks into the fold by happenstance as Lung offers him money for the best lantern this side of the lantern festival. Lung and Chao Chun-Fang, played with a demented, idiosyncratic duality from Leih Lo (“The Five Fingers of Death,” “Black Magic”), another master in the art of fighting in his own style, have an inimical past…well, at least thought so by Chun-Fang. In a sword dual over a woman, Lung defeats Chun-Fang and purposefully scars him above the left eye, causing him the inability to look up, and while the lantern maker has stewed for many years, training all the while to be the best fighter, his tormentor Lung Shu-Ai has nearly all forgotten about the incident and found trivial enough to ask Chung-Fang to make him a lantern and offer him out for drinks for being old buddies of yore. However, this yard pulls the wool over the eyes of self-centered, the upper class, and the unruffled nonchalant as Chung-Fang takes advantage of the Kung-Fu masters naivety and uses the rival as a screen to cover up his kidnapping deeds of the women in their lives, played by Ni Tien (“Corpse Mania”), Linda Chu (“Return of the Dead”), and Hsis-Chun Lin. “Human Lanterns” rounds out the character list with a hired assassin in Meng Lo (“Ebola Syndrome”) and a competent but out of his league village constable in Chien Sun (“The Vampire Raiders”).

The look of “Human Lanterns” is often dreamy. No, I don’t mean dreamy as in gazing into the strong blue eyes of your tall and dark fantasy man. The dreamy I’m speaking of is produced by cinematographer An-Sung Tsao’s luminescence that radiates of background and the characters through the wide range of primary hues. Tsao’s colorful and vibrant eye doesn’t clash with the vintage era piece consisting of impressively detailed sets, a costume design plucked straight from the 19th, and hair, makeup, and props (which I’ve read some of the blades were authentic) to bring up the caboose of selling the completed package of delivering a spot-on period film. When Leih Loh dons the skull mask, an undecorated and unembellished human skull, with wild, untamed hair sprouted from every side of the eyeless mask, Loh transforms into a part-man, part-beast jumping, summersaulting, leaping, and seemingly flying through the air like a manically laughing ghost. The visual cuts petrifyingly more than described and if you add an extensive amount of Kung-Fu to the trait list, “Human Lanterns” has a unique and unforgettable villain brilliantly crafted from the deepest, darkest recesses of our twisted nightmares. “Human Lanterns” has a wicked and dark side that balances the more arrogantly campiness of Lung and Tan’s hectoring rivalry. When Lieh Loh is not skinning in his workshop or Lung and Tan are not bullying each other into submission, there’s plenty of action with the heart stopping, physics-defying martial arts that just works into the story as naturally as the horror and the comedy. With shades of giallo and fists of fury, “Human Lanterns” is Hong Kong’s very own distinctive and downright deranged brand of good storytelling.

88 Films lights the way with a new high-definition Blu-ray of the Shaw Brothers’ “Human Lanterns” from the original 35mm negative presented in Shawscope, an anamorphic lensed 2.35:1 aspect ratio that more than often displays the squeeze of the picture into the frame. One could hardly tell the upscale to 1080p because of the very reason I explained in the previous paragraph of the airy An-Sung Tsao façade that softly glows like bright light behind a fog. Nonetheless, the image quality is still stunning and vivid, a real gem of conservation and handling on this Blu-ray release. The Mandarin dubbed DTS-HD 1.0 master audio is synched well enough to the action for a passing grade. The foley effects, such as the swipes and hits, are often too repeated for comfort, but adds to “Human Lantern’s” campy charm. The newly translated English subtitles are synchronous with the picture and are accurate but, in rare instances, come and go too quickly to keep up with the original language. The release comes not rated with a run time of 99 minutes and is region locked at A and B. Why not go full region free is beyond me? Licensing? Anyway, special features include an audio commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillon of the Podcast On Fire Network, “A Shaw Story” interview with then rising Hong Kong star Susan Shaw who talks about the competitive and easy blacklisting Hong Kong and Tawain cinema market, “The Beauty and the Beasts” interview with in story brothel mistress played by Linda Chu often harping upon not wanting to do nudity despite directors begging her, “Lau Wing – The Ambiguous Hero” interview with Tony Liu that comes with its own precaution title card warning of bad audio (and it is really bad and kind of ear piercing) as the lead man really regales his time on set and in the industry between Golden Harvest Productions and Shaw Brothers Studios, and rounding out the main special features is the original trailer. The package special features is a lantern of a different color with a limited edition cardboard slipcase with new artwork from R.P. “Kung-Fu Bob” O’Brien, a 24-page booklet essay entitled “Splicing Genres with Human Lanterns” by Barry Forshaw accompanied by full colored stills, posters, and artwork by O’Brien, a double-sided fold out poster, and reversible Blu-ray cover art that can be flipped from the same, yet still awesome, O’Brien slipcover art to the original release art. The new 88 Films’ Blu-ray set conjures a renaissance satisfaction like none other for a highly recommended, genre-ambiguous, vindictive affray.

Own this beautiful release from 88 Films of the “Human Lanterns”

I’ve seen more Evil from a Carebear. Lethal Ninja review!

lninjaRemember my video post a few days back?  (See Evil Mail Call! post)  You just recall me blabbing about Lethal Ninja (aka For Hire), you know, the Blue Laser title DVD with a really neat retro nineties look with a white boy ninja, holding a sai and is reflecting a half naked woman?  Well, I had the time to pop in the disk and try to see how lethal this white nina with a mullet really is?

Chinatown is overrun by kung-fu expert gangs who are controlled by the mob.  The mayor weak footed stance has him unsure about what to do and it doesn’t help matters if the cops don’t want to patrol Chinatown in fear of losing their lives. The mayor receives mysterious notes at every turn and read “For Hire” and a 555 telephone number.  The mayor mustards up his last bit of hope and calls the For Hire number.  J.D. Makay answers the mayor’s prayers as he uses his ninja abilities to clean up Chinatown from the foot troops to the head of management, but at the stake of the mayor’s family.

We begin Lethal Ninja with early nineties hip-hop james and dancing then a gang comes up and starts to throw fake punches, knocking people down.  All this happens even with the hip-hop band still sings and dances turning it into an In Living Color musical introduction.  This is just one of the instances that doesn’t make sense in this direct-to-video film.  We have random imagery of J.D. Makay practicing his movie hyped ninja moves.  Every time a for hire card is exposed, J.D. Makay throws a karate chop or a round house kick.  What scene really disturbed me was when Bambi Swayze, who plays as Rachel – family friend to the mayor and his family – is riding the main boss’s crotch.  He twists his lips and eyes into some contorted mess that I can’t really explain what is really going on.  He chants “obey me” while images of his son Sonny come on and off the screen.  Oh, and by the way, Sonny is shot in the gut in the cemetery scene and still lives and is walking around just fine.  Literally, shot in the guy with the bullet going through his body leaving a bloody shirt tail at his back.  But that twisted face will leave me with nightmares for the rest of my days.

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The character J.D. Makay just isn’t an assured action hero.  He can’t seem to protect the mayor’s family, he is saved a quite a few times by the mayor’s youngest boy, and can’t even tell that a cross-dressing hit man creeping around the burial ceremony.  Makay’s skills are a joke.  If I put Barney Fife in the Octogon with J.D. Makay, Barney would surely win by the first round.  Unfortunately, director Stefan Rudnicki just didn’t have the budget to afford better actors and special effects which would have aided the passable DVD cover.  It’s a good thing I only paid $1.86 for this DVD.  I couldn’t see myself paying the retail of $15.99 or more and if I did, I should just give away all my money – perhaps donate it to the veteran ninja society for the disabled.  I still look for to the other Blue Laser DVD Boiler Room.  I imagine it’ll be just as glamourous and thrilling like Lethal Ninja.

Lethal Ninja is an enjoyable film with lots of booze and many humorous compadres.  You won’t be able to teach yourself the ways of the ninja or learn the responsible ways of running a city as a mayor, but you’ll have your joke vault filled for the rest of your life.  The gullibility of the writing is incomparable.  I’ve seen Paul Naschy movies better than this, but I guess we all inspire to have a little ninja in us every once and awhile and that is why we make movies about them no matter how much money we don’t possess.  If you don’t want to catch this awesome flick on DVD, you can watch the cliff notes version below!