A young woman heads to a remote village to investigate the disappearance of her twin, and ends up taking her clothes off a lot…
By the mid-1990s, Hong Kong helmer Ivan Lai was on a real Category III roll, having directed the likes of Erotic Ghost Story 3, Daughter of Darkness, Daughter of Darkness 2 and Ancient Chinese Whorehouse – a fine genre record by any standard. While he’d mostly been known for serving up a mix of sleazy sex and horror until that point, with The Imp (not to be confused with Dennis Yu’s excellent 1981 supernatural shocker of the same English name) in 1996 he went considerably more towards the softcore side of things, the film basically being a vehicle for the talents of actress Pang Dan (Diana Pang), who was at the time trying to give Amy Yip a run for her money, also starring in Cat III films like Erotic Ghost Story – Perfect Match, The Six Devil Women and Evil Instinct.
Pang plays Ching Kwok Shan, a young Hong Kong woman who starts having strange visions of her twin sister being chased through a forest by a man with a knife. Although her only clue is a creepy doll, Ching traces her sister’s location to a remote rural village and heads off to investigate, hooking up en route with a TV crew making a show about native fertility rites. Once there, they stay at an inn run by the oddball Jing Hua (Ruby Wong, Crimes of a Beast) and proceed to couple up and sneak off for sex scenes, until Ching manages to upset the natives by interrupting one of their rituals before finally figuring out the mystery of her sister’s disappearance.
For most of its short running time, The Imp really is more softcore than horror, and is the kind of film that’s as likely to be found on PornHub as it is on Amazon. The first hour is basically sex scene after sex scene, with Ivan Lai also throwing in lots of shots of bathing and wet t-shirts, presumably for variety – like Amy Yip, Pang Dan, for the most part, goes for strategic rather than full-on nudity, something which can be rather comical during her sex scenes, with the most graphic moments being left to her co-stars. While on the plus side The Imp is less rapey and misogynistic than a lot of other Cat III films, very little else happens for long stretches, aside from a few telepathic visions and Ruby Wong’s landlady acting suspiciously, and the film is pretty slow-moving and likely to disappoint viewers looking for the usual kind of Hong Kong exploitation thrills and spills.
Thankfully, things do pick up, and the last half hour sees Lai returning to more traditional Category III territory, with plenty of violence, nastiness and wacky plot twists. Although fewer patient viewers may have tuned out by then, this gives the film a real shot in the arm, and it builds to a very entertaining, if senseless conclusion. It’s debatable whether or not this is enough to actually classify The Imp as a horror, though it’s reasonably well made and occasionally atmospheric, Lai being one of the more technically gifted of the Cat III directors of the time, and the production values are at least semi-decent. The film also benefits from a fine cast of recognisable genre faces, including Mark Cheng (Raped by an Angel, The Peeping Tom) and William Ho (Daughter of Darkness, Devil Sex Love), who between them probably featured in most of the Category III films of the 1990s – a special mention also goes to Ruby Wong for her increasingly deranged display.
While not one of his Ivan Lai’s best works, for those looking for something towards the softcore end of the Category III spectrum, The Imp is probably worth tracking down. Fans of Pang Dan will certainly want to give it a watch, though anyone looking for something along the lines of Lai’s Daughter of Darkness films might be better giving it a miss.