Master Lung Shu Ai (Tony Liu, The Way of the Dragon as well as two other Bruce Lee movies: The Big Boss, Fist of Fury) and Master Tan (Kuan Tai Chen, Crippled Avengers) are battling one another in every way possible, including Tan introducing Lung’s wife Jin (Ni Tien, who was in several other Hong Kong horror hybrids like Corpse Mania, Black Magic and Hex) to Yen-chu (Linda Chu, Return of the Sentimental Swordsman), the prostitute that Long has just been with. Obviously, the only way they can settle their problems is by winning the village’s lantern-making contest.
Lung needs help creating a lantern, so he turns to Chao Chun-fang (Lo Lieh, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) for help, the man whose face he once scarred and turned into a pariah. Lung promises great fame and money to Chao Chun-fang for his help and in return, the artist asks one thing: Never inquire as to when the lantern will be finished.
Lung and Tan continue sparring with one another as a series of murders begins in the village. Soon, the two men realize that they must join forces to stop the killer whose spree they have set in motion.
Beyond what you expect from Shaw Brothers — although this film has the sumptuous sets, high-flying martial arts and gorgeous visual look that they are known for — this film possesses scenes of great horror, like the stalk and slash scene at the beginning, with its visuals of skin being graphically removed with a hatchet in a slow, grueling moment of gore. Chao Chun-fang’s dungeon studio is filled with even more frightening imagery, such as piles of bloody organs and body parts, as well as more stretched out and drying skin that he will soon place onto those aesthetically above-average artistic lanterns.
It’s also amazing that this movie takes inspiration from slashers — perhaps in a collective unconsciousness way than outright theft — by having a near-invulnerable giggling killer with an incredibly awesome skull face. There’s also a hint of Mario Bava amongst the martial arts and it’s a cocktail of mixed influence that tastes absolutely refreshing.
Director and co-writer (with Kuang Ni) Sun Chung also made The Master Strikes Back, Notorious Eight and Old Man and the Kid. I loved this movie and am now hunting down his other films.
Beyond an HD transfers from the original negative, the 88 Films release of Human Lanterns has commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillon of the Podcast On Fire Network, an interview with Susan Shaw by Fred Ambroisine and an interview with Linda Chu by Arnaud Lanuque, a featurette on Lau Wing, the original trailer and a reversible sleeve with the original artwork and new art by R.P. “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien. You can get it from MVD.