Human Lanterns (DVD)

Human Lanterns DVD review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Uncle Creepy

Starring Tony Liu, Kuan Tai Chen, Lieh Lo, Yam Yam Siu

Directed by Chung Sun

Distributed by Image Entertainment

Me? I grew up watching Saturday afternoon kung-fu flicks on WNYW Channel 5 in New York City. They had a two o’clock TV show called “Drive-in Movie” that specialized in showing them. I grew familiar in the ways of the Shaolin monk and would frequently ambush my older brother Kato style to try out my newly learned styles and skills. Of course I usually ended up on the short end of the stick, but screw it, I was having fun! The Shaw Brothers’ presentation of Human Lanterns takes all of the chop-socky action that I love and then throws violence, whores, and demonic swordsmen into the mix. What could be better?

Lung and Tan are rivals in the same village. Each wants to be the most famous and respected by their peers, and as a result the two spend most of their time at each other’s throats via insults and fisticuffs. Every year the village puts on a lantern show, and of course Lung and Tan are in competition to have the fanciest. To ensure his victory at said show, Lung contracts a mysterious craftsman to help create the perfect lantern. Things go pretty swell until village women (including the sisters and wives of Lung and Tan) start getting kidnapped by a bizarre skeletal demon who’s covered in fur. By now I’m guessing you can figure out what became of these damsels in soon-to-be-skinless distress. The end result of these shenanigans is an all-out three-way dance of demonic doom.

Human Lanterns DVD review (click for larger image)If kung-fu and horror flicks are your bag, then this is the perfect hybrid! Where else can you see fists and swords flying one second and chicks being skinned alive the next? Sure it’s grisly, but it’s also goofy enough to come off as nothing less than charming! While it may not be the most well acted or even technically proficient of films, Human Lanterns is a blast from start to finish.

To my shock, there are even a couple of extras to dig into. The first is entitled Shaw’s Baby Doll: An Interview with Shawn Yin Yin, and from the title alone you should know what to expect. Shawn was a Shaw favorite, and to hear her wax on about working on this type of flick from the Eighties is pretty damned engaging. Also of interest is an alternate take on one of the film’s most infamous scenes, the skin peel. While not dramatically different, it does seem a bit more ouchie than what was included in the film, and the fact that this footage still exists is a wonder in and of itself. From there things wrap up with a still gallery and tons of Shaw Brothers trailers.

For folks who don’t mind subtitles (there’s no English track included) and love horror and kung-fu, this is your hot ticket for a good time. I just hope more of these classic flicks see the light of day. I still have some emulating left in me, and now that I’m bald I can even draw those six little Shaolin monk marks on my head! Gotta run! My girl’s at the door and it’s time to get into position!


Special Features

  • Shaw’s Baby Doll: An Interview with Shawn Yin Yin featurette
  • The Skin Peel Scene — Alternate take
  • Still gallery
  • Trailers


    3 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 1/2 out of 5

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  • Steve Barton

    You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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    • Sam Hell

      Kung Fu horror is a nifty sub-genre that I’ve yet to explore fully. HUMAN LANTERNS is one of its most notorious entries. What’s exciting about this DVD is it’s taken from the remasters that Celestial Pictures did to the Shaw Brothers library over the past few years. Also, it’s presented fully uncut, where other releases presented cut versions (i.e., trimmed for violence). Throw in the original language track and some tasty extras, including over 30 trailers in their original Chinese versions, and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded package of quality entertainment.

      Here’s some links to some more horror output from Shaw Brothers:

      Some may or may not contain actual kung fu fights, but either way you’ll find something that’ll make your mind crackle like Pop Rocks for the brain. I’d start with BLACK MAGIC or SEEDING OF A GHOST.

      Other non-Shaw Bros. you should look into are SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS (one of Sammo Hung’s best), MR. VAMPIRE (classic!) and THE PEACOCK KING (Yuen Baio, Gordon Liu!).

      Thanks Creepy for bringing Kung Fu to Dread Central! 😉