Gong Tau
Hong Kong 2007
Directed by Herman Yau.

Before seeing this film, weigh this one consideration carefully: Do you want to see an infant be horribly murdered? Complete with CGI blood, crying, and lots of grisly post-mortem and autopsy shots? Actually this leads directly to another question -- what exactly was director Herman Yau thinking when he put these scenes in his film?

The premise of GONG TAU is one to get HK movie fans in a lather -- a throwback to the old Shaw Brother's BLACK MAGIC movies of the seventies -- at last! A cop shoots a perp (Kenny Wong) in the head and he loses the ability to feel pain, so on his release he gets revenge against the police force using a bit of that old Chinese Black Magic (aka Gong Tau). But he isn't the only one making voodoo. There's another, creepier guy as well, from Thailand, specifically targeting Lok-Man (Mark Cheng) and his family (his wife, played by Maggie Siu, and the unfortunate baby) for mysterious reasons of his own. The chief inspector (Lam Suet) figures out it's Gong Tau at work and puts Lok-Man on the right path for defeating it. Or is it the right path? Perhaps freeing yourself from Gong Tau could be worse than dying from it. In the end, this isn't about good magic vs. evil magic: it is all evil, and if you want to practice you'd better get used to killing centipedes, cutting yourself, jerking off, and grilling corpse fat.

GONG TAU is full of gruesome spectacle, but for all that doesn't really lift the old genre up to a new level. Back in Herman Yau's glory days, he could make a Category III film like EBOLA SYNDROME (1996) and push the Category III gore film into never before seen depths of depravity -- he could create what remains an exhiliratingly transgressive work, beyond expectation. But now? GONG TAU doesn't feel transgressive. It feels nostalgic.

Nostalgia is something of a Hong Kong cinema industry these days, with every other film seemingly looking back in some way over Hong Kong's history (for example see MR. CINEMA, WONDER WOMEN, HOOKED ON YOU, all from 2007). GONG TAU is nostalgic as well, looking back on the history of black magic films: from Shaw Brother's BLACK MAGIC films of the mid-seventies, to the Category III films of the nineties, which included child-killing (RUN AND KILL (1993)), and plenty of points inbetween, including a "nod" to WITCH WITH FLYING HEAD and others. In short, GONG TAU is an exercise in genre nostalgia that has nothing new to say and is unlikely to fuel a return to Category III horror.

Mark Cheng delivers his usual stone-faced performance (amusingly, the English subtitles call him "Rockman"). Maggie Siu does nothing but tiresomely endless hysterics and sobbing, and Lam Suet is understated and barely present. Kenny Wong, as the cop killer, has some good moments and makes his role count, even though his face is in shadow for most of the film. Also a standout is stunning newcomer Teng Tzu Hsuan, who plays a Thai stripper from Rockman's past.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on August 20, 2007.


"what exactly was director Herman Yau thinking when he put these scenes in his film?"

Probably thinking he'd provide a shameless, over-the-top shock not found in many (any?) recent Hong Kong horror movies, and hoping that no one would spoil it, as I was hoping before someone did so at a Hong Kong movie discussion forum. Do I wanna see a baby killed? Hey, if it's in the movie, yes, but I don't want to expect it because that compromises a strong first impression of the scene, love it or loathe it.

Other than that, great review.

Cheers, as they say!

Posted by: Brian Thibodeau at August 22, 2007 06:45 PM

Well, you may be right. But then again, I feel a warning might be more warranted than a surprise, in this instance. That way people who like that sort of thing know to seek it out, the way people have for years sought out RUN AND KILL after hearing what's in that; while on the other hand, people who don't like seeing such should know to avoid the film, as it may turn that person off from seeing another HK movie, ever again. Certainly I wish I knew about it ahead of time; because then I never would have put the movie on with anyone else in the room.

Posted by: PTN at August 23, 2007 10:09 PM

I see your point, but speaking as someone who never really agreed with RUN & KILL being spoiled in much the same way (and who has always shown it strictly to those I knew could handle it), I guess I'll always prefer a tease over a tell-all, even if the person telling all feels morally obligated to do so. All in the details, I guess, in particular how many it takes to warn some viewers without dampening the surprise for others. Hopefully the person who saw it with you didn't judge you too harshly for renting/buying it in the first place. That wouldn't be very fair, but it might explain the tone of your opening paragraph. :(

Ironically, and somewhat regretfully, I think your approach to all this will win out as this film gradually makes the rounds of the HK review sites and more people feel compelled to point out what seems to be the its biggest showstopper and others then run out and buy it to see what all the finger-wagging is about. It will, sadly, become another RUN & KILL, a "you GOTTA see this scene"-type film even though it apparently doesn't live up to the legacy of its Category III predecessors. If anything, it might end up with a stronger reputation than it deserves.


Posted by: Brian Thibodeau at August 25, 2007 01:48 AM
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