R1 cover

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Year: 1982
Country: Hong Kong
Cast: Liu Yung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Lo Lieh, Tanny Tien Ni.
Director: Chung Sun
MPAA Rating: None (Suggested for Mature Audiences.)
Listed Run Time: 99 minutes
Actual Run Time: 98 minutes 39 seconds
AKA: Ren pi deng long/ Yun pei dung lung/
Official Site: Celestial Pictures, Image Entertainment

DVD FEATURE
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • Dolby Digital Mono (Mandarin)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Shaw's Baby Doll (14 min. interview with Shawn Yin Yin)
  • Skin Peel Scene (Alternate Take)
  • Stills Gallery
  • Trailers

What's going on?

Here is a rather peculiar movie from Shaw Brothers that mixes sword play with elements of the macabre. It's not quite a horror movie, in the traditional sense, though LANTERNS delivers it's fair share of shock. Rather this is a martial arts movie with horror pretensions in the vein of Yojimbo about a maniac lantern maker whose material is delicate human skin. Gore hounds might be interested in this due to the ghoulish subject matter but if you're looking for gratuitous torture porn look elsewhere because LANTERNS doesn't get in-your-face with the blood or grue and there is minimal (almost nonexistent) nudity.

All your lantern belong to me!


THE MOVIE

*** WARNING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***

The plot involves from left to right (see pic above) Tan, Yen-chu, Lung, Mrs. Lung, and Tan's sister (not in the picture). I kid you not those are the names the subtitlers gave the characters. Tan and Lung are aristo's with some sort of long standing rivalry slash feud that involves, among other things, an annual lantern building contest. That's why the pair are together in the scene above, Tan's showing off his lantern. Enter Yen-chu, a prostitute from the "Red Petal Brothel", and apparently the kept woman of Lung. Or so Lung thought. Seems Tan has usurpt Lung's proprietary interest over Yen-chu.

Oh snap!

Lung doesn't take this revelation very well and storms off like a two-year throwing a tantrum. Mrs. Lung is so blasé about this turn of events I was wondering if something wasn't lost in translation but, before I could ponder that further, Lung is visiting his lantern maker. Or rather the guy he thought was making his lanterns. As it turns out it was really an old rival. After some quick talk he convinces his old rival turned lantern maker to build him a lantern like no other, a lantern that will put Tan's to shame at the lantern contest. As the good book says pride goeth before the fall, and Lung is about to fall big time.

Long story short these two feuding aristo's live at either end of the proverbial street and are being played off against each other by a demented lunatic who likes to dress up in a zombie-sasquatch outfit. .

Undead Sasquatch Ninja?


They don't realize this, of course, and their infantile disputes quickly turn into a rabid death spiral of accusation and counter accusation as, first, Yen-chu goes missing, then Tan's sister, and finally Lung's wife.

I see London, I see France...

All this unfolds while the local constabulary, lead by Sergeant Poon, are not only oblivious but cosmically inept. Poon exists in this movie for no real reason other than to be the feeble plot device that keeps Lung and Tan from openly going at each others throats. He hovers in the background, pretty much doing nothing, as the dispute between the two feuding aristo's heats up like an atomic pile approaching meltdown. .

Let's Kung-Fu!

For instance when Tan told Poon of his suspicions regarding Lung, how he believed he kidnapped Yen-chu and his sister, the good Sergeant stakes out Lung's compound. Lung, being the typical oblivious arrogant aristo doesn't notice until he gets angry no one has invited him to any parties. (That's what the subtitles said!) He whines on about this until his wife informs him that he's suspect in the kidnapping and, on yeah, the house is being watched.
Lung, ever the arrogant artisto, marches out, confronts Poon, then stomps back into his compound laughing like a playground bully who just gave some kid a wedgy. So Lung's house is being watched, the director took the time to prove to us it's being watched, yet later when an assassin sent by Tan attacks and Ms. Lung is kidnapped no one seems to notice? What a police force!

I think there's supposed to be an element of dark comedy in the movie. Alas comedy doesn't translate well and this movie is subtitled so it could be Poon was supposed to be comic relief, or at least the character unintentionally part of a comedy of errors ala Inspector Clouseu. For my part I was just baffled by Poon's superfluous presence.

Just a well framed shot.


THE DVD

I am no expert but the packaging claims "Enhanced for 16:9 Tvs" and many vendor sites list this as being anamorphic yet, if you look at the screen caps, they don't look it. Usually anamorphic presentations output screen caps without black bars. Otherwise this is a very nice letterbox presentation. The picture is crisp and clear and the color looks vibrant. However an English language track would have been nice. The extras, such as they are, include the alternate, censored edit, take of one of the "skinning" scenes and a ton of trailers. If you don't have any of Image's other Shaw Brothers titles a great bargain, if you do it's more of the same old same old. Bottom line: Sans the trailers the extras are pretty disappointing.

Alternate Covers


AVAILABILITY

I have no information on this title in my print references. Based on online research there seems to be some confusion about what, precisely, the full "uncut" version of this movie is supposed to contain and how long it should run. Available information indicates extant DVD releases seem to all be cut in some way. These releases have included an R3 Hong Kong release, a R2 release out of the UK, and reportedly numerous Asian bootlegs. Information on VHS releases was sparse to non-existent.

The maniac's lair.


CONCLUSION

LANTERNS presents a story reminiscent of Yojimbo with the usual greed, pride, and revenge with the addition of women being skinned alive. The sword fights are okay, the movie stylistically shot, but it sadly lacks the wit of Yojimbo. Even Yojimbo's spaghetti western counterpart, A Fistful of Dollars, managed to be funny. LANTERNS seemed to be trying to play up the suspense and drama with a touch of dark humor that, to me, wasn't very humorous. Then again humor doesn't translate well and it's even harder to get across in the printed word. As the DVD offers no English language sound track, just subtitles, the written word is sadly all viewers have to go on.
Human Lanterns is just plain weird. It's martial arts with a touch of the macabre that doesn't have quite enough blood and gore to satisfy the hardgore horror crowd, has nothing for the raincoat crowd, and is basically the sort of movie that's meant to be watched not thought about. So if you can put your brain on neutral (while reading subtitles) LANTERNS is an engaging joyride into the rarefied realm of macabre martial arts horror. A must see for fans of martial arts cinema.

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan