Imagine a glorious amalgam of Golden Harvest martial arts, Cannon action, and Italian horror wrapped in pulp adventure and cranked to eleven. That’s The Seventh Curse, and I loved it.
Based on a series of popular novels by Ni Kuang, the film opens with Ni playing himself at a party, glass of port in hand, surrounded by girls. Prompted for a story, he mentions one involving two other guests, who insist Ni tell the story himself. Thus, the rest of the film unfolds in a flashback. It’s an unnecessary device, but the meta-nature adds to the film’s quirky charm.
We begin with our hero, Dr. Yuen, arriving to aid the police with a hostage situation. A medical doctor by trade, Yuen has a history of working with the police, who ask him to enter with an undercover officer who’ll set off a flash grenade ahead of a raid. This sets up a Cannon-style action sequence that sees the police zip-lining through windows and repelling down walls. Bullets fly, though most combatants prefer kung fu, including Dr. Yuen, who proves a capable fighter. The choreography, stylish photography, and frantic action belie the modest budget.
At this point, you’d peg the film as a martial arts actioner, but Dr. Yuen soon finds he’s ailing from a blood curse. Said discovery comes via some effective makeup effects involving throbbing veins and popping blood vessels. Yuen visits his mentor, Wisely, played by Chow Yun Fat.
Though top-billed, Chow’s role amounts to an extended cameo. The casting proves brilliant as he exudes a Cary Grant meets James Bond charisma that charms from the outset and frames him as a seasoned adventurer. He asks Yuen how he acquired the curse.
This leads to a flashback-within-a-flashback where we see Yuen in Thailand, part of an expedition researching a possible AIDs cure. Yuen chances upon a beautiful woman bathing in a see-through camisole. The two exchange hesitant words before she rushes back to her village.
That night, Dr. Yuen and the other researchers hear jungle drums. Their guide warns them not to investigate, but of course they don’t listen. They sneak up to the native village, where, by firelight, they witness a bizarre ceremony where dozens of black-gi clad tribesmen gather before a white-faced wizard leader who selects members for sacrifice to their “Old Ancestor”.
Yuen recognizes one of the sacrificial nominees as the girl he met earlier. Before he can react, another tribesman objects to the wizard’s choice of the girl. The wizard gestures, as if withdrawing something from inside his robes, and a creature reminiscent of the baby from It’s Alive materializes and flies toward the objector. The baby-thing rips out the objector’s throat in gory detail.
Shocked, Yuen’s compatriots flee, but Yuen rushes forward, determined to rescue the girl. He succeeds, but not before the wizard curses him in a sequence that sees another researcher’s insides turn to maggots.
Flashback complete, Wisely tells Yuen the blood curse will cause six vessels to pop, one per day, until the seventh and final day, when his heart will burst. Wisely suggests Yuen return to Thailand to seek a cure. Again, credit the decision to cast Chow, who delivers the equivalent of “that’s tough… good luck!” with charm.
The rest of the film sees Yuen return to Thailand, leading to another run-in with the wizard and his tribe of goons. More action, after the requisite “gear up” scene, including a massive kung-fu battle up and down an ancient statue, a fight with a skeleton puppet that evokes Ray Harryhausen, and gallons of blood.
Despite the ample gore, the film retains a contagious sense of fun and adventure akin to the better James Bond entries. Don’t expect rich characterization or deep emotional arcs. The focus is on spectacle and thrills with high narrative stakes but low emotional engagement. A fun watch where the thrill isn’t will our hero survive, but how. It may lack the Bond franchise’s polish, but it compensates with sheer enthusiasm, overflowing with set pieces, special effects, and stunt work.
Granted, some of those stunts seem a little too real, including a sequence where a Mitsubishi Jeep-like car bursts into a crowd of bad guys. It’s a quick shot, but either they really hit someone or that was the best stunt dummy I’ve seen in ages. This borderline dangerous approach continues with a scene where the Jeep barrels up the steps of a Thailand ruin. I can’t imagine them allowing such a sequence today.
The Seventh Curse is not for everyone. It embraces its influences to extremes, even if such reach exceeds its grasp. You see the strings for the skeleton puppet. The preposterous action sees our hero take on an entire village almost single-handed. The horror includes a throwaway shot of a stone device crushing babies for their blood. But if you exist in the Venn overlap of kung-fu fans, Cannon action fans, and Italian horror fans, like me, you may wonder where this movie’s been all your life.