Director: Tony Lou Chun-Ku
Screenplay: Lee Ho Kwan
Starring: Donnie Yen, Pauline Yeung Bo-Ling, Ben Lam, Chui Hei-Man, Kathy Chow, Ken Lo, Robert Mak Tak-Law, Hsu Hsia, Sibelle Hu
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 91 min (Cat II version), 92 min (Cat III version)
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: 18

Donnie Yen is a huge star who’s beloved in Hong Kong and China as well as being a well-known face worldwide. Yet, like everyone, he had to start somewhere and had been plugging away in the industry for a few years before films like Once Upon a Time in China II and Iron Monkey helped propel his career forward dramatically.

One type of film you might not expect Yen to star in though is a Category III title. For the uninitiated, Cat III is the Hong Kong classification for films squarely aimed at adults. Occasionally this was given to films containing extreme violence but, more often than not, this was due to them containing more explicit sex scenes or nudity. Not the type of fare you’d expect someone like Yen to crop up in, especially now he has such control over his public persona.

Yet back in 1991, after the actor had starred in a couple of notable titles, like the first two Tiger Cage films, Yen starred in The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead. This actually had two versions made simultaneously, a Cat II version and a Cat III counterpart, presumably to cater to a wider demographic. It’s certainly not one of Yen’s better-known films, but 88 Films have chosen to give it the spit-and-polish treatment on Blu-ray and have even managed to include both versions of the film in one package.

Intrigued, not the least by its wildly evocative title, I got hold of a copy of The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead and my thoughts follow.

In the film, Yen plays a seemingly ordinary teacher, Shiang, who finds himself in a horrifying situation when his female students are brutally murdered by a monstrous creature with glowing eyes. Suspected at first of killing them himself, Shiang soon discovers the culprit is a supernatural being – the Moon Demon (Ken Lo) – worshipped by a dangerous cult. This cult seeks not only worldly domination but also, for whatever reason, to disrobe and abuse young women.

As the body count rises, the authorities, including Inspector Chen Yu (Ben Lam), Shiang’s ex-wife (who is now seeing Chen) and museum curator Chor (Kathy Chow), become convinced of the paranormal threat. Shiang, determined to avenge his students, joins forces with them. Their investigation leads them to a Cambodian princess (Pauline Yeung), a royal member of a tribe destined to vanquish the Moon Demon. Together, they embark on a thrilling journey to confront the evil being and prevent the cult’s apocalyptic plans.

The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead is as daft as a brush, frequently making little sense and throwing all sorts of mayhem into the mix but is all the better for it. I won’t claim it as being a great film but it was a whole heap of fun.

For one, it has a furious pace. There’s never a dull moment, with an action or ‘cheesecake’ scene always around the corner. Speaking of the latter, the film is loaded with gratuitous nudity, or at least the Cat III version I watched is (I didn’t have time to watch both cuts). As such, your enjoyment of the film, or that cut in particular, will depend on your interest in watching films at the sleezier end of the spectrum. If you’ve picked up a film called The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead, I doubt you’re expecting something tasteful though.

There’s maybe not quite as much gore as you might expect from a film that references Sam Raimi’s classic in its title, but there are a few splattery scenes here and there to keep gorehounds watching.

The first half is more sex-scene and random boob-shot heavy but the second half ramps up the action, which is a good tactic I feel. There are only so many naked bodies you can watch in one sitting before it gets a bit tedious. So, as the film moved on, I was glad to see more fighting, largely of the wirework variety. This is hardly Yuen Woo-Ping level action but Yen gets to show off his skills and the final act is particularly thrilling. There’s some gunplay too, mixing things up a bit.

There are also a few stylistic flourishes here and there to keep this low budget production from looking shoddy. For instance, there are heavy blasts of coloured light at times (particularly when the red moon signals the appearance of the Moon Demon), some slow-motion and quite a lot of camera movement. Another stylistic touch frequently used is a strange rainbow lens-flare that appears whenever there’s a muzzle flash, explosion or other strong light source.

I shouldn’t ramble on too much about The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead though. It’s not a film to be analysed, it’s to be enjoyed. Granted, it’s dumb, messy and loaded with unnecessary nudity but if you can tune into its wacky vibe and aren’t troubled by the odd boob and bum shot (or 100) then you’re in for a wild ride.

Film:

The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead is out on 1st July on region-free Blu-Ray, released by 88 Films (pre-order it here). There are two versions of the film included, the Cat II version and the Cat III version. I opted for the latter and that has some technical problems due to the fact that the only Cat III version that could be sourced was from a low-quality SD copy. On the disc, this material has been spliced into the higher-quality print used for the Cat II version, so it’s a mixed bag but 88 Films have done their best in a difficult situation. I’m certainly pleased both versions were included. The Cat II material looks OK, with bold colours and fairly sharp details. However, there’s still some light damage present and the grain in some early sequences featuring heavily coloured lighting struggles in the digital translation. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed. I had no problems with the audio.

LIMITED FEATURES

– Features double-walled gloss o-ring
– Double-sided A3 Fold-out poster
– Moon Monsters, Holy Virgins, and Kung-fu – booklet notes by Paul Bramhall
– Two versions of the film including the uncut Cat III Version (Reconstructed From best available materials)
– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray(TM) Presentation in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
– 2.0 Cantonese Dual Mono with newly translated English subtitles
– The Man Behind the Genius – An interview with Lee Ho Kwan
– The King of Disco Vs The Evil Dead – An interview with Robert Mak
– Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by “Kung Fu” Bob O’Brien & original poster

In an interview, Robert Mak talks about how he got started in the film industry, beginning with his early dancing career as the ‘disco king’! He worked at Shaw Brothers for a while, so he discusses some of the films he made there. He also talks about not wanting to work on Cat III films but not always knowing how the films would turn out when signing up to them. He then goes on to talk about his experiences in making Holy Virgin. It’s a fun piece.

Lee Ho-kwan, who was a scriptwriter, assistant director and actor in the film, also provides an interview. He talks about how the film came about and how he was thankful to talk Sibelle Hu into a small role that would see her shed her usual squeaky-clean image. He also describes his relationship with the director, who he saw as his Godfather, as well as discussing how it was to work with Donnie Yen. It’s another enjoyable supplement.

I didn’t receive the booklet or any other physical extras to comment on those.

Overall, it’s a shame there’s no commentary track, as you usually get with these classic Hong Kong movies, but the extras here are decent and I greatly appreciate 88 Films giving a new lease of life to lesser-known martial arts fare like this.

Disc/package:

The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead - 88 Films
Film
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About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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