I have plenty of stubborn genre biases that I need a lot of handholding to get past; I need a movie to be really over the top in its style or novelty to bother with a genre that generally bores me. I don’t care for Westerns, but watching Kate Winslet destroy an entire town by sewing pretty dresses in The Dressmaker is enough to make me get over that. I don’t have patience for war films, but watching Jean-Pierre Jeunet warp his war epic A Very Long Engagement into an over-stylized twee romance was perversely thrilling. Moonraker had to launch James Bond into outer space as a cheap cash-in on the Star Wars craze for me to go out of my way to see a 007 film. However, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie go as deliciously, deliriously over the top to break through my boredom with a specific genre than The Seventh Curse – a supernatural Hong Kong action classic that pulls off the unique miracle of keeping me awake for the entirety of an Indiana Jones adventure.
I normally don’t vibe with Indiana Jones-style international swashbuckling at all, but this copyright-infringing mind-melter hits the exact level of bonkers mayhem I need to get past that deeply ingrained disinterest. While actual Indiana Jones pictures fire off dusty nostalgia triggers that have been old hat since at least the era of radio serials, The Seventh Curse is overflowing with imagination, irreverence, and explosive brutality in every single scene that you will not find replicated in any other movie, including the Hollywood blockbusters it lovingly “borrows” from. This is a film where a James Bond-styled super-agent goes on international Indiana Jones adventures into ancient temples, ultimately teaming up with a Rambo-knockoff sidekick to defeat a flying Xenomorph with batwings. Moreso than Indiana Jones, it reminded me a lot of the post-modern Brucesploitation picture The Dragon Lives Again, in which “Bruce Lee” teams up with Popeye the Sailor Man to beat up James Bond, Dracula, The Exorcist, and “Clint Eastwood” in Hell. That wild abandon in random assemblages of copyright violations is absolutely thrilling in both cases, but The Seventh Curse is better funded, better conceived, and better staged than The Dragon Lives Again by pretty much every metric. It’s also far preferable to any actual Indiana Jones film, even if it could not exist without their influence (and a little help from Jones’s loose collection of Hollywood superfriends).
In radio serial tradition, the film opens mid-adventure, where our pathetically named hero Chester Young untangles a delicate hostage negotiation by punching & kicking a legion of heavily armed Bad Guys to death. While celebrating with his 007 sexual conquest after that mission, a pustule forms & explodes on his leg, spraying blood all over his high-thread-count bedsheets. He then explains, in flashback, that this sudden fit of body horror is part of a supernatural curse that he’s been suffering for a full year – branded upon his soul by an ancient Thai god when he disrupted a human sacrifice ceremony on a previous mission. This curse will soon destroy his body for good if he does not return to Thailand to confront the witchcraft-wielding Worm Tribe who cursed him a year ago, which launches us into another, grander adventure involving a flying cannibal fetus, a shape-shifting zombie god, the ritualistic sacrifice of human babies, gratuitous nudity and, of course, a bat-winged Xenomorph. The antiqued sets & triumphant musical accompaniment frame Chester Young’s latest international mission in an Indiana Jones genre context, but the practical minute-to-minute details of that mission are far wilder & more thrilling than what you’d expect from the aesthetic.
I’m currently reading an encyclopedia of Hong Kong action cinema titled Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head, which is overloaded with hundreds of capsule reviews of the once-vibrant HK movie industry’s greatest hits. Every single blurb in that book makes every single title sound like the most explosively badass movie you’ve never seen, fixating on that industry’s unmatched talent for absurd plot details, tactile fight choreography, and for-their-own-sake visual gags. I want to be incredulous that the book’s bottomless hype for Hong Kong genre classics can’t be matched by the low-budget mayhem those movies actually delivered, but I don’t know; maybe it’s all true. I was pushed to bump The Seventh Curse to the top of my Hong Kong Classics watchlist by our friends at We Love To Watch when they recently guest-hosted one of our podcast episodes, and it totally delivered on its reputation as an unhinged, uninhibited genre gem. Between this glorious Indiana Jones revision, The Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead, and the few John Woo movies I’ve reviewed for the site, I’m starting to convince myself that the hype is real; all 1,000 of those recommended titles might actually be that badass. The bummer is that most of them are either impossible or unaffordable to (legally) access in the US. By some unholy miracle, The Seventh Curse is currently only a $1.50 VOD rental, though, and it’s almost incredible enough to talk me into going into debt chasing down the rest of the Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head titles one-by-one.