Satan Returns
Hong Kong 1996
Directed by .


Francis Ng is Satan's emissary on earth. His purpose: rip out women's hearts and see if any of them live.

I suppose if Satan had to choose his emissary on Earth, he could do worse than to pick a man who lives at "666," has hundreds of clocks in his apartment all set to "6:00," and has the serial killer prerequisite habits of stalking and collage making. Satan has a task for this man, who later introduces himself as Judas ("My name is Judas. One of the followers of Jesus was also named Judas," he helpfully explains). Satan has somehow managed to lose track of his daughter (pretty sloppy for ultimate evil), and it is up to Judas to find her. He knows that she was born on June 6, 1969 (Get it? 6th month, 6th day, and the year...er...if you turn it upside down, partially,...ah...hmmm. Well, there's a six in the year, at any rate). In order to determine if a woman born on that date is Satan's daughter, he must cut out her heart. If she lives, she is Satan's daughter. If only someone explained to Satan about DNA testing they could have saved him a lot of trouble.

When we first meet Chan Shou-Ching(Chingmy Yau) she is dreaming that Judas is carving up a woman like roast beef. She has these recurring dreams because she is Satan's daughter, of course, though no one seems to catch on to this throughout the entire film. After those chilling visions, she goes to wake up her roommate, who is having sex with the comic relief(Dayo Wong), an even more chilling vision from which we are thankfully spared.

Ching and her roommate work for the Complaints Against Police Department. They are investigating officer Mo Ti Nam(Donnie Yen) for charges of using excessive force, which he aptly demonstrates on their first meeting by taking out a few common thugs in a diner with extreme prejudice. When one of the thugs kidnaps a child, they chase him down an alleyway, where they stumble on to a scene of ritual murder. Ching recognizes the victim from her dream.

In the police debriefing room, it turns out Ching has a smattering of knowledge about the Bible, and so is enlisted to help officer Mo hunt down the killer, even though she is still investigating him. The comic relief, who we learn is Officer Mo's partner, comments that the killer must have watched the movie "Seven" too many times. Not for the last time during this film, I wonder if I will get to watch him die horribly.

The police learn that all of the victims had recently applied for a credit card. This is no suprise, as I have long known that credit card companies are in league with the Devil. The police assign three undercover police women to apply for the card. When one of them gets a call from Judas, the cops stakeout their prearranged meeting place. While the woman waits for her meeting with Judas, she munches on a gigantic, fresh, red apple. It's the biggest, reddest apple I have ever seen. Every time she takes a bite out of it, you can hear the succulent crunch, see a splash of juice squirting from between her teeth. I don't remember what else happened in this scene -- I was transfixed by the apple. Apparently the screenwriter remembered there was something in the Bible about an apple and a woman and Satan, and had to include it for its deep, symbolic significance.

Once Judas realizes that Ching is the woman he is looking for, the movie becomes a cat and mouse game between the two, with the cops constantly trying to keep them apart. Under Judas' influence, Ching begins to listen to her inner Satan, and does various darkly satanic things such as wearing lipstick and hose. Eventually Judas gets his hands on her, as you knew he would, and it all comes down to a last minute rescue by Officer Mo and his comic relief (still unfortunately not horribly killed) just as Judas is about to put Ching to the test.

Although the movie doesn't state it directly, the implicit assumption is that Satan's daughter, when found, will become the AntiChrist of Christian apocalyptic tradition. While this vision of the end of days is truly absurd, I have to admit it is no more ridiculous than what you may read in the pages of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth or an issue of The Watchtower. The script is at least coherent in its apocalyptic vision, right up until the end when, right before the credits roll, the screen fills with Chinese characters. Normally I lament the appearance of these un-translated explanatory notes, but this time I noticed a (20:7:8) at the end of the text. Following a hunch, I grabbed the bible and flipped open to the Book of Job, Chapter 20, line 7-8, and read:
they will perish forever in their own dung
I understood this immediately to be referring to the comic relief, and the fate that surely will befall him in time. What a fantastic, uplifting way to end the film! Of course, I suppose the quote could also be from Revelations:
When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth.
The thousand years! Of course! 1969 is one thousand,...no wait, nine hundred minus...no, nevermind.

Overall, the film wasn't as bad as it could have been, and in fact I kind of enjoyed it. It was the little things that added up for me in this film. For example, I appreciated the fact that they alternated shooting everything in 'supernatural blue' lighting with some 'urinal yellow' and 'satanic red' scenes. Some scenes were even shot with natural lighting!

Donnie Yen does a fine job as Officer Mo, probably because he doesn't have to act much. He just has to look fierce and hurt people. Chingmy Yao has some fine moments, and the camera certainly loves her, but she may have been just a bit too underplayed to carry her role totally convincingly. Luckily, each scene with the comic relief in it made everyone else look about twenty times better. One minute you're watching Donnie Yen and Chingmy Yau, then comic relief shows up and you could swear they're Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh.

Francis Ng plays Judas, and he was really the perfect choice for it. He brings a certain charm and style to waving around a big wiggly knife cutting people up, kind of like a less disgusting Anthony Wong. Unfortunately, in the climactic scene, he dons a robe with a hood that hides his face, so it really could've been anybody. When I saw him in it, I wondered why he hadn't worn it during his other murders. I suppose Satan had most likely misplaced it.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 22, 2004.


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