01 Nov SCIENCE VS THE BLACK ARTS: LESSONS LEARNED THE HARD WAY IN BLACK MAGIC 2
For the most part, Shaw Brothers horror films are usually enjoyed for the sheer outrageousness that they encompass. The focus of the Shaw Brothers studio when it came to films was their ability to make money in theaters and through their horror films they could deliver scares, gore, nudity, and outlandish supernatural elements without necessarily having to make sense and they would still be entertaining enough to generate cash. They provided entertainment first and foremost at the expense of most anything else. The first Black Magic film used all of these elements to deliver an outrageous experience with exploitative sex, violence, and energetic fantasy driven spectacle that was powered by a fantastic cast. It’s also a decently flawed film as it attempts to deliver these things in spades with little regard to actual character work or plotting. The movie must have been a rousing success because only a year later they delivered Black Magic Part II (also known as Black Magic 2 – which is the title on Amazon Prime for those looking for some Shaw horror this month) which features a handful of the same cast, the same writer, and the same director. It’s not a direct sequel, despite all of the returning talent, but a film that hits on a lot of the same themes and elements as the original. This time, however, they learned some lessons along the way and provide a much more cohesive film watching experience.
Cohesive is the word that defines how Black Magic 2 compares to many of its Shaw Brothers horror peers and its predecessor. Instead of a film where writer Ni Kuang and director Ho Meng-Hua threaded a handful of sex, violence, and horror scenes together with a loosely bedded narrative, Black Magic 2 feels like it was written with a story in mind first that happens to leap through its entertaining exploitation elements as it goes. Like the original Black Magic, the core of the film is about an evil black magic practitioner working in a more urban area and becoming entangled with our protagonists, who happen to hire him haphazardly. There’s love spells involved, all kinds of shady cult material, and a show down of chanting and special effects at the end to seal the deal in a battle of magicians. At the core, Black Magic 2 is just enough like the original to keep fans happy, but it’s more cohesive in a narrative with more realistic characters to drive it through its series of supernatural elements.
Of course, not only did the makers of Black Magic 2 learn to build a better film at its foundations for the sequel, they also added in a few changes to make it more fun. Namely, our four protagonists, two couples played by Shaw Brothers super stars Ti Lung, Tanny Tien, Wai Wang, and Lily Li Li-Li, are scientists investigating the results of our villainous black magician Kang Cong (played by the always entertaining and reliable Lo Lieh) as his black magic ailments defy the science. This allows the audience to learn about the black magic of the film along with them while we see it being enacted as Kang Cong charges large sums of money for his work. The entire science versus mysticism is a classic trope for films like this and it works rather well here giving a more grounded sense of understanding to the proceedings that make our protagonists feel far beyond their element as things get increasingly weirder. It also gives the film a sense of consequence as characters are killed off and our remaining heroes must battle Kang Cong on his own terms in a fantastically entertaining third act that even goes as far as featuring zombies, lopped off limbs, burning buildings, and a fist fight on a gondola (!).
While Black Magic 2 is not nearly the most insane Shaw Brothers horror film you can watch this month to celebrate Halloween in SB style, it’s perhaps one of the most cohesive and effective ones. It uses its themes to give it depth, foundations in character to ground it for the audience to follow along, and never ceases to still be outlandishly entertaining with its exploitative elements and gut-punching supernatural grossness. It has almost everything one can ask for in a Hong Kong horror film of this style and it’s a massive improvement over its predecessor.
What are you waiting for? Stir up some blood potions, cut a lock of hair, throw some pins in some dolls, and polish your black magic ring to enjoy the charms of Black Magic 2.
Watch Black Magic 2 with Prime Video: http://amzn.to/2zmP9ub