Monday, August 19, 2013

Witch with Flying Head (Taiwan, 1982)

There’s nothing like a detachable witch when you need to hex those hard to reach places. Southeast Asian filmmakers, they get this, as, judging by Witch with Flying Head, do the Taiwanese -- though whether such beasts are also part of their folklore I’m not sure. Perhaps the temptation to pair the grotesquerie of the regurgitation-based “black magic” genre with that featuring a flying female head that trails its entrails behind it was simply too great. In any case, as I mentioned in my review of Ghost of Guts Eater, the Thais call such a creature Krasue, while the Indonesians call it a Leak or Leyak. The subtitles for Witch with Flying Head call it a “flying evil”, which is also adequately descriptive.

Witch with Flying Head kicks off when Yu Chun (The Fairy and the Devil’s Chen Siu-Chen), a young noblewoman, is cursed by an evil sorcerer (Ma Sha) who sends a snake -- which, of course, he regurgitated -- scurrying up her nethers. He steps forward and offers her “medicine” to cure the resulting physical distress, and she drinks it, only to be told by him that she will now become the flying evil as a result, an affliction he will cure only if she agrees to marry him. Yu Chun basically replies “ew” to this, and soon we are seeing her unmoored head take wing, guts in tow, in search of blood (and not babies or placenta, as in the Southeast Asian versions of such tales). As you might imagine, this tendency soon becomes a problem for Yu Chun, and she and her two handmaidens opt to move to a remote cabin in the mountains where she is less likely to do harm to other humans.

Soon after her arrival on the mountain, Yu Chun is treated by a Taoist priest, who says that, from that point on, she will only become a flying head on the 15th of every month. He then gives her handmaidens a special box in which to capture her on those occasions. Thing is that, while you would think that keeping track of that one date would be primary on their minds, the three have a frustrating tendency of letting the 15th of the month just sneak up upon them and being all like “oh, shit!” – thus not depriving us of scenes of a prosthetic head being wire dragged through the night sky in pursuit of hapless passersby.

Elsewhere in Witch with Flying Head, another witch is preying on young male travelers on the mountain roads, marking them with the symbol of a snake before taking snake form and killing them. One of these is the handsome Tang Wang Kuan (Lau Seung-Him), who, in fleeing the witch, comes upon Yu Chun’s place and asks for shelter. When the witch comes in pursuit of him, Yu Chun uses the box given her by the priest to entrap her, thus taking that device out of play when later needed to deal with her own witchy issues. Eventually, Yu Chun and Tang Wang Kuan fall in love and marry, on the condition that Tang makes himself scarce on the 15th of every month. A baby follows, whereupon the sorcerer from the beginning of the movie, witches in tow, returns, promising safety for Yu Chun’s child only in return for her marrying him. (See? He’s just lonely.) Slimy supernatural battle follows.

Witch with Flying Head has pretty much everything you’d want from a krasue movie. The titular creature, while not always an aid to suspension of disbelief, is suitably disgusting, as are the many scenes of snakes writhing around in people’s guts. As an added bonus, because Witch with Flying Head is also a Taiwanese fantasy film, the krasue has the ability to shoot cartoon laser beams out of its mouth. The fact that she is an innocent afflicted with her condition by malevolent outside forces also places her in the company of tragic monster/heroine hyphenates such as those portrayed by Suzzanna in countless Indonesian stomach turners. Director Cheung Yang-Git (he of the reportedly also gross The Devil) places special emphasis on this last aspect, presenting us with many melodramatic scenes of weeping and lamentation.

Surprisingly, all of this weeping and lamentation ends in sunshine and rainbows for Yu Chen and Tang Wang Kuan, as her successful defense of her family from the serpentine interlopers leads us to an improbable happy ending -- accompanied, for some reason, by the theme from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unfortunately, that defense included nothing as awesome as the aerial dogfight between krasues that we saw in Ghost of Guts Eater, but we can’t ask for miracles.

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