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Masters Lung (Tony Liu) & Tan (Chen Kuan Tai) are both acknowledged
swordsmasters & both blessed with wealth & fame ... which is why
they are bickering all the time, to the point of insulting one another.
Tan has been especially nasty once by presenting Lung with his favourite
whore in front of his wife (Tanny Tien Ni), Lung figures the only way to
retaliate is to beat him at the competition for the best lantern at the
Lantern festival (oh how threatening) ... but for that he needs
(naturally) the best lantern maker about ... whom he finds in Chao
Chun-Fang (Lo Lieh), a former swordsmaster who has lost all his spirits
after Lung forced him into a duel, beat him & scarred his face.
Understandably, he bears a certain grudge for Lung, but Lung, blinded by
the money he offers Chao Chun-Fang & his own reputation, refuses to
see that ...
Soon, Lung's favourite prostitute is kidnapped by a man in
a skull mask, then skinned alive & her skin is used for a lantern ...
(for the attentive reader, yes it was Chao who kidnapped & killed
Soon, Tan's sister shares the same fate, & an old drunk &
Lung's wife are also kidnapped, skinned, killed & recylcled as
lanterns, & Lung's wife is raped as well (after the kidnapping, but before
Meanwhile, Lung & Tan are getting more & more at
each other's throats as each one thinks the other one has abducted the
women ... & eventually, Tan even hires a killer, Kuei Szu-yi (Lo Meng)
to get rid of Lung, but when Kuei fails to do so, Tan kills his own
For Chao though this is a perfect occasion to heat up the
enmities between Tan & Lung even more, & he tells Lung that Tan
has actually hired the assassin ... with the expected results that the 2
men are soon fighting it out ... a fight that's only ended when Chao in
skull mask interferes & brutally stabs (but doesn't kill) Tan.
only then that Tan & Lung realize they have been cheated into fighting
one another, & in the end, together with police officer Poon (Sun
Chien), who has at times suspected them both of kidnapping & murder,
go after Chao ... who proves to be more than their match, & in the
end, he is only stopped when his house caves in over him, burying him,
& all his beautiful lanterns made of human skin with him ...
can only just escape, horribly scarred, but maybe that experience has made
him a better man, as he decides to give away all his wealth & retreat
into the mountains to meditate.
A blend of period martial arts
film, typical Shaw Brothers style, & a Tales
from the Crypt-style horror story - inasmuch as it tells a
moralistic story about very macabrre divine justice (as the main character
Lung is such a self-obsessed prick throughout that he deserves
& while the film might not quite live up to its
notoriety (as few films do) of being an out-&-out gorefest, it's
nevrtheless a fascinating & perversely creative twist on the (by the
early 1980's) pretty tired martial arts-genre. Furthermore, quite in
contrast to its somewhat sleazy subject, it's very beautifully filmed,
giving the film at times an almost lyrical atmosphere.