Human Lanterns is similar to a Hammer/Shaw collaboration that I reviewed some time ago called The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in that it combines high flying kung-fu action with elements of horror. However, unlike Hammer's contribution to the martial arts genre which basically substituted zombie-vampire things for Chinese guys, threw in a cliche Dracula for good measure and called it "horror," Human Lanterns is actually dark, gritty and bloody. Both films do have naked breasteses which is always a good thing, though not in great measure.
I know Beasts in Human Skin is supposed to be all about the boobies and blood but before I get to that I have to mention how amazing, intricate and elaborate the set designs are in this movie. It blew my freakin' mind! The fight choreography is excellent, as well. Ok, on to the story.
Two upper-class asses from rival families are constantly trying to out-do each other to gain the admiration of the local villagers. Each tries to be the best at everything no matter the cost. When the Lantern Festival approaches, Master Lung knows he must display a lantern which is better than his rival Master Tan's or risk losing face among the villagers. He approaches a lantern maker he has employed in the past but is told that the most skillful lantern maker is an unapproachable recluse who does not wish to be known. After some money changes hands, the lantern maker gives up the name of this hermit artisan and Master Lung seeks him out in the wilderness. When he finds the hidden workshop, he realizes that this great artist is actually an old enemy who had gone into isolation after getting mushroom-stamped with the pointy part of a sword during a duel with the arrogant aristocrat years before. The woman they fought over is now Master Lung's wife.
I don't want to give everything away, but by the movie's title it should be fairly obvious what's going to happen. The dirty and reclusive lantern maker agrees to make the finest lanterns ever made as long as Master Lung doesn't return until the lanterns are completed. Of course, Lung doesn't know they are going to be made out of human skin.
Soon women close to Lung and Tan begin to disappear as the crazy hermit kidnaps them and skins them alive as a way to play both aristocrats against each other and get his revenge against Lung for stealing his woman and shaming him with his steel phallus. The two arrogant upper-class asses are forced to work together to take on this madman before he can kill any more women. Ironically, he inflicts suffering and death to create lanterns in the likeness of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, and other Buddhist saints/deities. He really does make some fine lady-skin lanterns, though.
Happy Chinese New Year!
Violence Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Booby Rating: 2 out of 5