Anyone remotely aware of the iconic ‘Riki-oh: The Story of Ricky’ won’t be shocked by how violent, bloody, and campy this horror/adventure film is by Lam Nai Choi. It never quite reaches the absurd heights of his cult classic. This loose adaptation of author Ni Kuang’s adventure series and characters is wild in its own unique way. That sensibility is settled from the first shot of the author portraying himself, surrounded by a group of gorgeous women competing for Miss Asia. To impress them, he promises to regale them with his own strange stories that he attests to being truer than fiction.

To support his claim, he looks to his two prominent guests at the party, Dr. Yuen (Chin Siu-ho) and Wisely (Chow Yun-fat). Both men are lead characters in Kuang’s series of novels titled after their names. The film posits the idea that the uncanny tales Kuang weaves are actually within the world of the film, a reality beyond our wildest dreams. It’s a metatextual level of commentary Lam Nai Choi adds to the story as the protagonists come to life to tell Kuang’s own story.

To begin the film’s plot, Dr. Yuen urgently needs help when an old blood curse placed on him resurfaces. The structural choices Lam makes here are daring and confounding. Lam uses a flashback within a flashback structure for Yuen to recall to Wisely how he came to be cursed. On a research adventure to Thailand, Yuen comes across the dangerous Worm Tribe. Sorcerer Aquala (Elvis Tsui) leads the occult tribe, his demonic gods demanding the occasional sacrifice and blood magic.

Aquala oppresses a nearby village to feed his gods, selecting, among many, the beautiful Bachu (Tsui Sau-lai). Despite warnings from the group leader, Yuen sacrifices everything, including the lives of his men, to rescue Bachu. It is a failed operation that Yuen barely makes out alive, with a blood curse placed on him. Seven worms will burst forth from Yuen’s body in seven days, draining him of his life, hence the film’s name.

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Returning from his flashback, the rest of the film sees Yuen heading back to confront the tribe and free himself of the curse. He is also tasked with rescuing the oppressed village alongside Black Dragon (Dick Wei), Bachu’s lover, who is intent on saving her from a terrible affliction caused by Aquala. Tsui Hung (Maggie Cheung) joins the two men. She is a lively and stubborn reporter hoping to get a story out of Yuen’s escapade.

Constructed as a step-by-step challenge with dangerous tasks and deviations, the narrative has much to play with but cannot coherently put it together. Lam and his writers are also clearly limited by their resources, including the cast. To the narrative’s detriment, Chow Yun-fat enters and goes as he pleases in a memorable cameo despite being one of the protagonists. There’s a cobbled-together energy to the film that tracks the history of 1980s Hong Kong features, especially designated as Category III.

The Seventh Curse (1986) Movie Review
Sau-Lai Tsui in The Seventh Curse (1986)

It is mainly found in the chaotic visuals buoyed by gnarly effects, especially when it comes to the creatures, ancient demons, and skeletal warriors that make up the horror. This also pertains to the editing that leaps across moments without any remote explanation, moving from an action set piece to a tense horror moment. It doesn’t help that many of the conflicts are quickly resolved. For example, to free himself and Bachu of their curses, Yuen and Dragon need to scale an Ancient Buddha statue and retrieve the two gold gems in his eyes. As they make the dangerous trek, the men are beset by a magical group of monks and engaged in combat. The scene only exists to display more of Yuen Bun’s action choreography than anything. It ends anticlimactic, as Dragon begs the monks to stop and is awarded the gems.

Similarly, the end fight scene is an inexplicable showdown between two monstrous creatures inside the sorcerers’ lair, rather than involving any of the human characters. Hilariously, in fact, during the scene cutting chaotically between the two creatures struggling, the long shots showcase that the actors weren’t even on the set. It all ends with a harebrained last-minute rescue by Wisely, Chow Yun-fat probably squeezing in the time for one last shot.

Sadly, the one scene worth any excitement arrives early in the film when Yuen recounts his daring rescue of Bachu. It’s the only time the audience gets a taste of the heady mix of eroticism and blood-soaked violence promised by the Category III sub-genre. Nonetheless, the rest of the film is subject to bouts of action accompanied by Chin Siu-ho and Maggie Cheung bickering, while Dick Wei looks stone-faced and least bothered.

There’s no spark among any of the leading actors, even when the film teases romantic pairings. Chin Siu-ho, while a competent martial artist, doesn’t have any of the charm or charisma needed for a heroic role. He cannot even muster a bit of fear and trepidation in returning to the sight of his past mistakes and the birth of the curse. It doesn’t help that the far more skilled Chow Yun-fat strolls past his thankless role with ease yet gives no extra effort.

Cheung is as irritating in a role written as such but helps none of the narrative. Equally annoying is the styling choices made to her character; not Maggie Cheung’s finest hour either way. The rest of the cast just feels equally bored. Even when hamming it up, Elvis Tsui has none of the gravitas to turn this into a scenery-chewing role. Honestly, it’s just for the inventiveness of the effects and gore that comes with it that this film retains any interest. Yet that isn’t something special in the annals of 80s Hong Kong cinema, particularly from Golden Harvest. A potential fun blend of genres ends up falling flat.

★½

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The Seventh Curse (1986) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Cast of The Seventh Curse (1986) Movie: Chow Yun-fat, Chin Siu-ho, Dick Wei, Maggie Cheung, Sibelle Hu
The Seventh Curse (1986) Movie Genre: Action/Horror, Runtime: 1h 18m
Where to watch The Seventh Curse

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