02 Nov HONG KONG DIABOLIQUE: THE ATMOSPHERIC TONES OF HEX BY BLOOD BROTHERS FILM REVIEWS
Hong Kong horror might be known, mostly, for its insane and scattered uses of homages and styles of popular horror films from other countries. Those splatter films like Seeding of a Ghost or even the more cohesive Black Magic films might be the better-known films outside of China, but they are only one part of a much more artistically diverse genre. Whether it’s the wuxia ghost stories of Chor Yuen or perhaps the almost fable like villain origin story in The Oily Maniac, the horror genre of the Shaw Brothers studio deserves a bit more credit than it is usually given. Take Hex as a prime example. It’s a period piece film about a murderous husband who is plotting to kill his wife which eventually runs foul against the spirit world. It’s rather gothic at times while still being outrageous in its Category III elements. It’s a strange mix of two tones that can at times play against one another, but it makes Hex memorable and sets it aside from the usually mentioned Hong Kong splatter films.
In the title of this article, I refer to Hex as the Hong Kong Diabolique and that’s because the main story and initial tones of the film are set up as a sort of remake of the French artistic horror film Diabolique. Whether it’s an official remake or not is unimportant ultimately, but for those horror fans that have seen the French film they will immediately pull those comparisons to the front of how they view Hex and that does the film a disservice. The foundations are the same, sure, but Hex is also grounded as a Hong Kong horror film too which is why the film can be caught between the two tones of ghostly tension and Category III exploitation. Continually comparing it to Diabolique is problematic and should be limited in the end.
From there, it’s best to take the film as the narrative flows pulls you. Hex starts off in more like a dramatic thriller as it follows the wife and her awful husband. She makes for a wonderfully sympathetic protagonist in the film and worthy for an audience to follow her. That is, until the film shifts away from her to her husband to drive its narrative. It’s a rather impressively confident move, particularly after the film spends so much time developing him as a villain, and in this shift it also steers away from being a thriller (which director Kuei Chih-Hung was very capable at developing and executing) and leaps into the supernatural spirit realm. From this point, the film starts to increasingly get more ungrounded in its elements. Some oddly placed comedic moments with ghostly sightings can turn dark in seconds and Hex develops its Category III pieces at its goes. By the time it hits the finale, which features a very unique exorcism that firmly plants the film into exploitation territory, it’s gone off its usual gothic ghostly rails into being sheer outrageous entertainment.
Hex maintains a sense of its audience, thanks to some fantastic twists in its plotting and character concepts, that allows it to be the massively entertaining film it is. Director Kuei Chih-Hung loves to toy with the tones of the film, playing them against one another for impacting effect and uses a strong sense of visuals and to develop the otherworldly atmosphere that starts off in the gothic realms and moves into the more poppy and psychedelic Category III region. This approach is problematic at times, but for those willing to leap into the film then it can be a unique way to burn a couple of hours. And in the spirit of Halloween, Hex does have its merits as a crowd pleaser in its brilliant Hong Kong spin of Diabolique. It’s a ghost story with a shifting sense of self direction that never ceases to be its own thing and it’s just one of the more interesting Shaw Brothers horror films out there that deserves a bit of attention.
Written by Matt L. Reifschneider the Founder/Writer/Lead Editor of Blood Brothers Film Reviews. Unapologetically cult. Follow him on Twitter.