The Seventh Curse

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The Seventh Curse (1986) finds director Lam Ngai Kai true to form. The Seventh Curse is deliriously violent, amply gory, and packed to the gills with bizarre creature effects that range from puppets on strings to men in rubber suits. As is the case with Lam Ngai Kai’s The Cat (1992), The Seventh Curse is based on a handful of stories by novelist Ni Kuang.

In The Seventh Curse Lam Ngai Kai mixes seemingly disparate genre elements in order to expand the notion of a “professional adventurer” and to open the scope of the narrative. The protagonist, Dr. Yuen (Chin Siu-ho), starts the film regaling his fellow adventurers, including his mentor Wisely (Chow Yun-fat), at a party with stories of his exploits. The first adventure that Lam Ngai Kai delivers is a hostage situation that goes awry whose elaborate action choreography would make the sequence feel at home in any John Woo picture. From here the film transitions into a flashback to when Dr. Yuen first journeyed to Thailand and was given his blood curse. The rest of the film sees Dr. Yuen, Wisely, and Tsui Hung (Maggie Cheung) working to stop the curse and end the sorcerer Aquala’s (Elvis Tsui) reign of terror over the Worm Tribe.

Lam Ngai Kai’s direction is kinetic and narratively economical; moving from set piece to set piece with only a minimal amount of exposition. Exposition, as a rule, is secondary in films that feature demonic fetuses that fly and skeletons that mutate into H.R. Giger’s Xenomorphs. Spectacles of martial arts battles, black magic, and terrifying gore dominate the last two thirds of the film as our heroes seek Holy Ashes, cure curses, fight monsters and gangs of wicked henchman. This isn’t very sophisticated material but Lam Ngai Kai’s unique interpretation of these genre elements make The Seventh Curse feel fresh even today.

Lam Ngai Kai displays absolutely no sentiment or reverence for the genre he is ostensibly working in. Instead he pushes the limits of the genre and seems to enjoy doing what he does best: manufacturing disgusting looking Hell creatures and ramping up the gore factor. The Seventh Curse really defines the direction Lam’s career would take and one can see these trademarks of his style first coalesce in The Seventh Curse.