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Human Lanterns - Human Lanterns( Blu Ray) [88 Films - 2022]

In 1974, Hong Kong-based martial arts studio, the Shaw Brothers teamed up with British Hammer studios for the release of the movie, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. A first for both studios linking horror and martial arts and subsequently leading to the birth of a small but fruitful subgenre of martial arts cinema, the martial arts horror movie. Best known for Shaw Brothers Black Magic trilogy and Ricky Lau and Sammo Hung’s Mr Vampire series, the martial arts horror movie thrived throughout the 1970s and 1980s. They were often more than a little camp, always outrageous and always unique.

Human Lanterns is one such film, originally released in 1982, it was co-written and directed by Chung Sun (The Master Strikes Back, Sexy Killer and Claws of the Eagle) and stars Tony Liu (Way of the Dragon, Fist of Fury and The Big Boss), Kuan Tai Chen (Bloody Monkey Master, Invincible Monkey Fist and The Man with the Iron Fists), and Leih Lo (Five Fingers of Death, 36 Chambers of Shaolin and Police Story 3 – Supercop). In the years since its release it has grown to be a much-loved classic of Hong Kong cinema, so it was great news to find out that  88 Films had picked this up for a Blu-ray release.

Human Lanterns tell the story of two local lords, Master Lung (Liu) and Master Tan (Chen), who both aspire to victory in the lantern contest, their competitive nature means that both men will not settle for second place. After Tan embarrasses Lung in front of his wife, Lee Chin (Ni Tien, Corpse Mania, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold and Black Magic) by parading his whore, Yen Chu (Linda Chen, The Notorious Eight, Return of the Sentimental Swordsman and Flying Corpse) in front of her. In his rage, master Lung seeks out a former rival for his wife’s attention, Chao Chun-Fang (Lo), who just so happens to be a master lantern maker. Lung commissions him to build a special lantern that will allow him to hold his head up in public again. Unfortunately for Lung, Chai Chun-Fang has not forgiven him for defeating him in combat years earlier, taking Lee Chin in the process, and plans to make Master Lung pay. He dresses himself in a skull mask with long hair and kidnaps the loved ones of both Tan and Lung, playing the two men off against one another by leading them to believe one another is responsible for their wives’ disappearances. He then gets to work preparing his masterpiece, a set of lanterns made from human skin.

Human Lanterns is a highly enjoyable martial arts/ horror romp, with some solid performances, particularly from Leih Lo as the man who has lost everything he ever cared about, the film also features some gorgeous set design by Chan King-Sam . It also features some quite gruesome moments, particularly when we see, Chao Chun-Fang stripping the skin from his victims, however it is the martial arts that take centre stage here, as one might expect from a Shaw Brothers film. There are some quite brilliant fight sequences, particularly between Masters Lung and Tan and the fight sequence between the three men at the film’s climax.  The wire work is exemplary and highlights another reason why this has become such a beloved title. 

This new Blu-ray from 88 Films looks gorgeous, the new HD transfer looks crisp and clean, and the colours are vibrant and really show off the film sets beautifully. The disc comes in a lovely slipcase with artwork by R.P “Kung-Fu Bob” O’Brien, a booklet with contributions from writer Barry Forshaw and a rather tasty double-sided poster, as if that weren’t enough the disc features an audio commentary, interviews with Susan Shaw, Linda Chu and Lao Wing (Tony Chiu), as well as the obligatory trailer. 

Human Lanterns was a lot of fun, it’s a cult classic which is deserving of that title, the horror elements work and the martial arts are top-notch. I would rate this as one of the best of the clutch of martial arts/ horror movies that Shaw Brothers made and this release from 88 Films is as good as it gets. Great sound and picture, a very enjoyable film and a pretty tasty package. If you like horror, martial arts or particularly both genres then you will find something to enjoy in Human Lanterns. I think the film itself is probably deserving of a 4, however the whole package is so good I’ve decided to rate it as a 5.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Darren Charles
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