HֿOŢ (1982)
Human Lanterns

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 07/25/2008

In the Shaw Brothers studio's stable of directors, Sun Chung was known as creating some of the darkest entries in the kung fu genre. Human Lanterns (aka Human Skin Lanterns) is widely considered to be his best work, but unfortunately, it has not been able to be seen by many in its' uncut form due to violent content. Now, with a new release via the Eastern Masters label, US audiences can now easily check out one of the most unique takes in the old-school vein in all of its' bloody glory.

The film revolves around two rivals, Lung (Lau Wing) and Fu (Chen Kuan-Tai). Both are powerful businessmen and seem to have everything at their fingertips, but their hatred of each other causes a game of oneupsmanship. After Fu hires away Lung's favorite hooker, Lung hatches a plan to humiliate Fu at the upcoming New Year's festival by producing a series of grand lanterns. Lung contacts an old foe, Chun (Lo Lieh), to create the lanterns. Chun reluctantly agrees, but doesn't tell Lung his secret -- that the lanterns will be made out of human flesh.

Most people are used to a bit of blood in Shaw Brothers films, most notably the trademark flying blood spurts present in many sword fights. However, Human Lanterns definitely takes things up a notch. The happenings aren't as gory as some later Category III movies, or the more modern "torture porn" pictures by directors like Takashi Miike and Eli Roth. But even though Human Lanterns seems a bit dated now, there are a few truly unsettling scenes.

The violent scenes might have come off as exploitative and cheap if it wasn't for performance of Lo Lieh. Lo always seems to do great work as a villain, and this is one of his better performances. Combined with some very solid cinematography and editing, and buoyed by a good soundtrack that manages to transcend the usual Shaw Brothers stock music route, the horror scenes end up working extremely well.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many other portions of the movie. Except for Lo Lieh, the actors seem to be phoning in their lines, and that effect isn't helped by a fairly poor dialogue overdub. There's plenty of action, especially towards the end of the film, but it's not co-ordinated with much panache at all -- most damningly, there's lots of obvious and somewhat sloppy wirework.

Also, the ending felt a bit forced and tacked on. Given the dark nature of the proceedings, the ending -- while not exactly upbeat -- didn't really fit in with the movie as a whole. It's not enough to ruin the film though, and given the nearly one-of-a-kind nature of what Sun Chung presents with Human Lanterns, it still very much deserves a viewing by any old-school kung fu fan.

DVD Information

Eastern Masters has been doing a good job with their releases of Shaw Brothers films, and this one is no exception. Using Celestial's transfer, the video and sound quality are about as good as you could expect for a movie of this type and age. It should also again be noted that this is the fully uncut version, unlike some previous editions that were trimmed for violence. Extras-wise, the DVD includes an alternate cut of one of the more bloody scenes in the movie, an interview with Shaw Brothers star Shawn Yin Yin, and over thirty trailers, which are presented in their original Chinese versions.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Libretio
Date: 10/18/2005
Summary: Uneasy combination of martial arts and horror


Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Shawscope)
Sound format: Mono

A vengeful craftsman (Lo Lieh) sets two warring noblemen (Lau Wing and Chen Kuan-tai) against each other by abducting their loved ones and peeling their skin, which he uses to embellish a series of prize-winning lanterns.

Old-fashioned kung fu thriller with horror asides, distinguished by balletic fight scenes and expansive widescreen cinematography, in typical Shaw Brothers style. Ni Kuang's screenplay (co-written with director Suen Chung) is fairly detailed, and the pace is fast and furious throughout. But the film is weakened by pantomime performances and generic post-sync dialogue, and by an uneasy combination of martial arts mayhem and Hammer-style horror. Beautiful sets and costumes.

NB. The film played uncut on its original theatrical release, though most subsequent video prints have been censored, eliminating brief nudity and some graphic violence. However, the UK DVD (issued by Momentum Asia in 2005) appears to be intact.

(Mandarin dialogue)

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 02/27/2005
Summary: agree with Mr. Booth

Possibly the finest example of creativity and artistry from the Shaw Brothers, Human Lantern is dark and classy. The horror element is quite tame and shouldn't put anyone off who has minimum tolerance. On the other hand, the choreography, photography, cinematography, dialog, story, and acting are all outstanding. Tony Liu Yung, Chen Kuan Tai, and Lo Lieh give the performance of their career.


Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 12/28/2003
Summary: Yucky to watch!!

Well a movie where all the main characters can be said to be bad guys. A interesting movie and at times quite disgusting. Lo Lieh easily steals the movie and his performance alone is worth seeing. The movie has many twists and turns and the ending is quite exciting to watch!!

REcommend to watch to see for yourself what a little horror and thriller can do for a kung fu movie, more shold be made like this!!


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 11/04/2003
Summary: *****

I nearly passed this over because the Celestial disc is missing some of the gore scenes that made the film notorious, but thankfully there's so much more to the film than that it still comes out top class. A great story, and some of the best art direction and cinematography of any Shaws film I've seen - plus tons of superb fight scenes... and still a few stomach-turning moments left in too. A real masterpiece! Lo Lieh totally owns the film :)

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 02/16/2003

Tan Fu (Chen Kuan Tai) and Lung (Lau Wing) are a couple bitter adversaries who are looking to go one up on one another at a lantern-making contest. Lung tries to win the contest by seeking out a specialist in lantern making, Chun Fang (Lo Lieh), to have him make one of his beautiful lanterns for the contest. Chun Fang agrees to Lung’s request, but sorry to say Chun Fang’s methods of making the lanterns are highly unusual and can be out-and-out deadly. Chun Fang creates his beautiful lanterns by diligently taking the skin of his female victims and then delicately placing it over the lanterns. How lovely! Heartbreak hits Lung as he unknowingly must pay the huge price for the one of kind lanterns –the death of a couple of the women he loves (played by Linda Chu and Tien Ni). Tan Fu, pays the price too as his sister (played by Lam Sau Kwan) becomes a victim of Chun Fang too. In the end, Tan Fu and Lung put away their past quarrelling to team up and put an end to Chun Fang insane deeds. Great movie that is worth watching a couple of times.