HOUSE OF TRAPS (1982)
(Directed by Cheh Chang)
(Written by Cheh Chang and Kuang Ni)
(Starring Phillip Kwok, Sun Chien and Chin Siu-ho)
Plot: A corrupt Prince (Ngaai Fei) is recruiting Warriors in order to overthrow the Emperor and keeps a list of his allies in the titular ‘House of Traps’, an impenetrable safe-house. A magistrate (Sun Chien) is sent to investigate the traitor even though he doesn’t know any kung fu, but various Imperial Agents are secretly protecting him, while seeking a way to get through the House of Traps. Also known as “Chong xiao lou“
“House of Traps” is in many ways one of the more important Venom Mob flicks, primarily because it is often regarded as the last one. This isn’t entirely true, but the original guard would mostly move on after this and Chang Cheh’s career was near its end, so I understand why people say so. I’m not sure if this was a box office flop or not, but it also wasn’t formally released in the United States for a LONG time, forcing viewers to endure a crappy, cropped, subtitled version. Many fans view “House of Traps” in high regard, claiming that it is an overlooked gem in the Venom Mob library. I had been going through netflix, looking for kung fu flicks to devour and I happened across “House of Traps“. Initially, I was confused because I couldn’t find my rating, but I could’ve sworn I had seen the movie. I looked through my history and saw that it had been sent to my house in February of 2015. But I would’ve reviewed it…right? I decided to check “House of Traps” out again and slowly, my memory began to return. Admittedly, all I could remember was those fruity head-dresses that a guy named ‘Butterfly’ had and an incredibly effeminate servant…but at least my memory was finally grasping onto something. Yet my viewing experience became even more baffling as I realized that none of the second half seemed familiar. I knew I would’ve at least recalled a guy straddling a giant phallic statue…if anything…but in this case, I was a virgin to that sight. Then it hit me…There was a reason why I never reviewed “House of Traps“.
I had fallen asleep while watching it!
Perhaps I had been tired, but honestly, I found once again myself engaged in another struggle with slumber during viewing #2. “House of Traps” isn’t devoid of value, but I thought it was pretty boring. The narrative is all over the place, throwing too much information at us way too quickly. I barely had time to process who was who and what was going on when who started what’ing all over who. My mind did eventually adjust and I figured it out because this is a simple story, but I don’t know why they had to surround such simplicity with convolution. Apparently this is an adaptation of a novel, so perhaps the filmmakers tried too hard to be faithful, which only hurts the narrative when there are so many characters and storythreads. Even worse, we don’t really have any reason to care for the protagonists because they’re changing throughout the film. The Magistrate seems like a likely candidate at first, but he always feels like a bystander who needs to be told what to do by other characters and he becomes less prominent as the movie goes along. Someone else seems better suited for the role, but they are shockingly killed near the half way point. Eventually a protagonist does emerge, but he doesn’t appear until surprisingly late into the plot. The final battle is fought by the villains and heroes who weren’t even around during the first half of the movie! Only the baddies remain consistent, but even they lose screen-time during the second half, so I can’t claim that the writer(s) was trying to tell this story from their POV. There were just too many characters who didn’t naturally fit the narrative and this lead to me being detached from their situation. No one has any real character, although the Black Fox (Phillip Kwok) has an entertaining personality, so why should I care?
I could’ve probably overlooked all of this to a point, as kung fu movies are usually about the kung fu…But “House of Traps” even shortchanged me in that department. The Choreography is still really good, showing off lots of acrobatics, flashy swordplay, grisly violence and cool gimmicks- The Venom Mob has done better, but this is still strong work. But there isn’t a lot of fighting until the very end, meaning that most of the duels are with words. I will say this, the house of traps itself was pretty sweet. I enjoyed how elaborate and absurd the concept was. The scenes which take place within tend to be very suspenseful, a rare feeling for this genre. The costumes and locations are very colorful and lively, which is always nice. This isn’t a poorly made film, but I spent most of my viewing disinterested in what was going on and even my praises are more mechanical than personal. The only time it caught my attention was when something homoerotic would occur and…yeah, “House of Traps” is very homoerotic. Maybe in Hong Kong, it’s common for men to wear bonnets, chest revealing vests, use double-bun hairstyles. But the phallic imagery…Jeez…I have to presume that the Prince intentionally designed that statue ontop of the house to resemble a dick. Maybe in Hong Kong, it’s common for men to attach giant, stone penises onto their rooftops. And maybe in Hong Kong, it’s common for men to straddle those giant, stone penises. I don’t know! I’ve never been there! Seriously, this aspect brought some giggles out of me, but “House of Traps” is only flamboyant enough to raise an eyebrow. It’s not gay enough to make it worth enduring (“Showdown in Little Tokyo” on the other hand…oh myyyyy). I don’t believe I have the right to review something I fell asleep through, but while I ultimately remained awake this time, I’m not entirely sure it was worth the struggle. Yet let’s face it, I am in the minority. Many have enjoyed this kung fu flick, so if you watch it, make sure you do so based on its general reputation or a second opinion.
Note: The ending was way too silly, especially considering the gruesome content and darker tone.
Violence: Rated R.
Nudity: None, but I kept expecting a gay orgy to happen…”House of Traps” let me down…Unless the sword fighting was also intended to be phallic….
Overall: “House of Traps” was rather dull, even though it has some good stuff. But everyone else seems to be okay with it….