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DVD SAVANT

The Cave of Silken Web
Pan si dong


The Cave of Silken Web
Image / Celestial / Shaw Brothers
1967 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 86 min. / Poon shut dung, Pan si dong / Street Date December 12, 2006 / 19.99
Starring Angela Yu-Chen, Shen Yi, Ho Fan, Peng Peng, Wah Lau Leung
Cinematography Lin Kuo-Hsiang
Art Direction Chen Chi-Jui
Film Editor Hsing-Loong Chiang
Original Music Wang Fook-Ling
Written by Cheng Kang, Wang Po-Yi
Produced by Run Run Shaw
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Cave of Silken Web is a funny Chinese action fantasy, a cross between Kiss of the Spider Woman, Little Red Riding Hood and a demented operetta. Colorful storybook characters cross paths with a bevy of alluring, color-coded beauties that lay a demonic trap for unwary travelers. Swordfights, super-powers and magical spells proliferate as our crusaders try to outwit the cunning Spider Sisters.

Synopsis:

Buddhist monk Xuanshang (Ho Fan) and his three retainers are diverted from their quest by The Seven Spider Sisters, demons eager to gain immortality by feasting on monk-flesh. Although chief retainer Monkey Su Wu Kung (Lung-Chang Chou) has superior fighting and magic skills, the Sisters manage to pull XuanShang into their lair and block the entrance with enchanted spider webs. Warrior Friar Sand leaves to retrieve a weapon called the Taoist fire from heaven. Pigsy (Peng Peng) does his best to fool the Spider women but is too easily seduced by their charms. All seems lost until one of the Spider Sisters plots with her lover, a male demon, to double-cross the other six and save the frightened Xuanshang for her own dinner plate. That gives Monkey Su Wu Kung the opening he needs!

Right from the first scene, The Cave of Silken Web hits us with a flurry of visual and aural delights. The Seven Spider Sisters giggle and frolic like beach party babes and then lick their lips at the prospect of eating our heroes alive. They shoot silken webs from their hands and sing about the pleasures of being beautiful, sneaky and seductive. The fully-orchestrated musical numbers sometimes involve synchronous motion -- a multi--armed spider ballet is particularly enchanting -- but the screen really rocks when one of the Sisters performs a solo in a sing-song voice, complete with coy mannerisms that say "I'm so cute and I'm going to eat you up!"

The Cave of Silken Web is actually part three of a famous story called Journey to the West. This chapter was preceded by The Monkey King Goes West and Princess Iron Fan; a final installment appeared two years later and was entitled The Land of Many Perfumes. The inexperienced but loyal monk Xuanshang is on a mission to bring the sacred Buddhist scriptures back from India. His loyal 'human' bodyguard Friar Sand is given less attention than Xuanshang's other retainers, animal spirits in amusing make-ups. Pigsy is a grossly fat and jolly fellow with a good heart but not much sense. His pig's nose and big floppy ears are funny in themselves. Actor Peng Peng is obviously an experienced comic player.

Earning more respect is the clever and talented Monkey Su Wu Kung. Not only is Monkey a superior warrior, he easily sees through the Spider Sisters' bag of tricks, like disguising their Cave lair as a friendly Inn. Although not explained as such in the movie, Monkey is supposed to be a rebellious Buddhist god who has been banished to Earth.

Some of the action takes place in attractive exterior landscapes, but the key set is the Spider's grotto, a stylized setting for fights, musical numbers and furious web spinning. Some of the colorful webs serve as reclining 'beds,' upon which the Spider Sisters luxuriate while seducing victims or anticipating their next meal.

In the spirit of an ancient folk tale the action alternates between colorful balletic fight-dances and clever attempts by one side to fool the other. The Spider women and Xuanshang's retainers make constant use of magic, mainly to impersonate other people. The Spider Sisters are already icky bugs in disguise. One of them impersonates an old man to fool Xuanshang, Pigsty pretends to be his master and Monkey magically disguises himself as one of the Spider Sisters. Some of these impersonations are excellently done, as the actress that plays Monkey disguised as a Spider Sister does a perfect mime of the Monkey's mannerisms.

Like any good fairy story, both the heroes and bad guys play for keeps. When one Sister is caught cheating on the others, the Eldest Sister (Wah Lau Leung) wastes no time running her through with a sword. The Sisters are fetching in their gowns and beehive hairdos, but the film frequently reminds us of their true nature when they transform back into scuttling black spiders. The tale reinforces the notion that female sensuality is the source of demonic treachery and malice. The story has a male imp-demon, but he's also held in thrall by the allure of a Spider woman.

The optimistic Xuanshang remains nobly confused throughout. His friends frantically invent new ploys to rescue him, forcing the hungry Sisters to repeatedly reschedule their suppertime. Although the demon lover is a lusty fellow, nothing in the show gets too risqué. The numerous fighting scenes are like colorful, bloodless circus acts. Our only regret is that the amusing musical numbers cease at the halfway point ... we'd have loved to see the troublemaking Spider coquettes perform more operetta and pantomime.


Image and Celestial's DVD of The Shaw Brothers' The Cave of Silken Web is a delightful change of pace from typical Hong Kong export fare, bloody combat and kung-fu violence. What was originally an irony-free comic fantasy will probably play as a campy self-parody for American audiences; just the same, these wacky Chinese characters would be perfectly at home on Dorothy Gale's Yellow Brick Road. Presented in a colorful enhanced transfer, the 2:35 film stays brilliant and sharp even in the numerous split-screen and special effect sequences. The magical effects are especially well done, considering that the film was produced long before the advent of CGI techniques.

The only extras are galleries of other Shaw Brothers product, all of which seem to be standard violent action fare.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Cave of Silken Web rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 19, 2006




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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