Onetime poster boy for “extreme” Hong Kong cinema, writer-helmer Herman Yau (“The Untold Story”) serves up a feast of contempo voodooism and Buddhist balderdash in “Gong Tau,” the dormant spirit of early ’90s Hong Kong exploitationers in a slicker 21st-century package. Pic lacks the gritty tabloid style of the prolific Yau’s classic pictures but compensates with its devil-may-care attitude and some personal drama amid the gore. Late-night fest slots and red-blooded ancillary beckon for this May local release.
Kar-pi (Maggie Siu), wife of hard-boiled cop Cheung Lok-man (Mark Cheng) — suitably called “Rockman” in the English subtitles — is prey to nightmares and screaming fits. Auds know it’s because a guy with boils on his face is practicing oriental voodoo with specimens of her baby’s hair, but Cheung thinks his wife is just having a bad hair day.
Cheung’s boss, Sum (Johnnie To regular Lam Suet), suspects gong tau, a potent kind of black magic used in cases involving either love or money. In a leap of logic, he also suspects the villain is Malaysian criminal Lam Chiu (Kenny Wong). Twelve years ago, during a chase, Cheung shot Lam in the head; latter survived but lost any sense of pain.
When Cheung is persuaded to take Kar-pi to a gong tau specialist, she vomits centipedes during the grisly exorcism. However, all is not over, as Lam has now resorted to the more powerful Flying Head style of gong tau, in which his head detaches itself from his body and becomes a flying vampire.
It’s at the hour mark that the pic really starts earning its stripes. Tinted flashbacks involving Guangzhou pole dancer Elli (stunner Teng Tzu-hsuen) reveal what really happened to make Lam follow the dark side. And to remove the gong tau, Lam humiliates Cheung in a grisly ceremony that involves grilled human corpse fat, insects and, uh, fresh semen.
This final warehouse standoff is played with the same mixture of black comedy and pathos characteristic of many of Yau’s movies. There’s a kind of bleak sympathy for the villain, who is getting his revenge on the “respectable” middle-class society that shafted him in the first place.
Aside from Siu, encumbered with a role that calls for her simply to scream and whine, perfs are all of a piece, with iron-jawed Cheng good as the cop with a secret and Lam solid as his superior. Wong comes into his own in the extended finale.
Technical package is superior to many of Yau’s other pics, and f/x deliver in a suitably trashy way.