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Plot: hospital is haunted by apparitions and suspect slayings.

Ghosts are deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and folklore. They were part of oral tradition before writing developed during the Shang Dynasty (1600 - 1046 BCE). From there out they came one of the earliest stories in ancient Chinese literature and they are very much part of everyday life in China to this day. The Chinese pantheon of ghosts and apparitions is especially interesting as it mixes ancient concepts of the cycle of life, death and rebirth with philosophical traditions like Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. In Chinese folklore there a multitude of different ghosts; some benevolent, some malevolent and the majority of them happen to be female. Roughly speaking there are three categories of female ghosts: the vengeful, the orphaned, and the hungry. The vengeful ghost seek retribution against those that wronged her in life, the orphaned ghost has no living descendants to offer libations in her name and thus she is forced to wander the mortal realm, while the hungry ghost is typically condemned for transgressions or wrongdoings engaged in during life. Just as in folklore and culture ghosts have been part of the Chinese cinematic landscape since the dawn of filmmaking. Asia has a long history in having some of the best ghost movies.

Whether it are classical examples like The Enchanted Shadow (1960), and The Ghost Of the Mirror (1974), post-modern fantasy-infused efforts like A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Green Snake (1993), or more contemporary outings as Ringu (1998), Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), Dark Water (2002), and The Eye (2002) Asia has a long history with ghost horror and has contributed many a classic to the subgenre. While hardly the worst of its kind Lift to Hell (電梯驚魂) occasionally manages to push the right buttons but isn’t exactly what you’d call riveting. It was based on the internet novel 18 Floors Underground (地下18層) by Bu Zhoushan Sanren and while we can’t vouch for how faithful it’s to the source material, it’s able to scrounge up an atmospheric scene here and there. Most of the time however Lift to Hell is, sadly, emblemic of Mainland China ghost horror at large in so many ways. It remains ever popular with young filmmakers due to how easy they are to make (consider them the Sino equivalent of found footage, slashers, or paranormal horrors) in general and the subgenre shows no signs of… well, giving up the ghost, you could say. Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia do this type horror far better, for all the obvious and not so obvious reasons.

In the old Peninsula Hospital in northern China head nurse Ma (Yang Qing) dies under mysterious circumstances one night after failing to take her medication. In her dying moments she remembers the 18th floor incident and the walls adorned with the words “today, it’s your turn!” written in blood. That same night Dr. Lin Fei (Blue Lan Cheng-Lung), son of hospital dean Dr. Lin Siyuan (Su De), sees what he believes to be a female ghost through the telescope from his flat in the opposite building when watching his girlfriend nurse Bai Jie (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na). Lin Fei is not liked by everybody, the nurses like him well enough, but for senior heart surgeon Dr. Zhang Tiankai (Robert Lin) his youthful idealism are a grave annoyance. One day Tiankai is accused by a journalist of the Medical Daily of plagiarising a German medical dissertation for one of his recent publications. He assumes that since they had their professional differences that Lin Fei must be behind it. When the elderly doctor too receives a “today, it’s your turn!” note in his email, he commits suicide by jumping out of the window.

All of this prompts the hospital’s geriatric custodian Hu Wei (Cai Hong-Xiang) to try and exorcise the ghost. When Lin Fei tries to consult the custodian he finds him not only unreponsive but he too commits suicide driven mad by terror. The spate of mysterious deaths stoke the rumors of the hospital being haunted among nurses and staff. The mysterious deaths compel Lin Fei to dig deep into the case history of the hospital. Since Lin Fei was the last to see old man Hu alive the good doctor is, understandably, among the suspects. This forces Bai Jie to end their relationship to safeguard her own reputation and future employment. As Lin Fei plunges deeper into his investigation Bai Jei starts dating Lin Fei’s senior Dr. Ouyang Ke (Tse Kwan-Ho). As Lin Fei follows the clues he discovers a medical malpractice case the hospital went to extremes to cover up. Will he live long enough to exonerate himself off any alleged wrongdoing, uncover the sordid truth behind Dr. Ouyang Ke, the mysterious death of Ouyang’s mother Dr. Ye Zi (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na) on the 18th floor, and the alleged ghost that now seems to haunt everybody involved with the case?

Since this was a production from the Film Bureau it guarantees two things: first, there will be nothing that could be in any way construed as offensive to Chinese cultural sensibilities and/or to the state-sanctioned Chinese national identity. Second, the Film Bureau is in the habit of contracting a lot of models in their productions. In this case the prerequisite model is Chrissie Chau Sau-Na (周秀娜). Chau, the once-and-future Sino queen of cleavage, didn’t become a superstar overnight. She was a veritable internet phenomenom in and around 2009. In that capacity she was invited to the Knowledge Unlimited seminar at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology that year where she was unable to answer a number of philosophical and existential questions. A year later veteran actor Anthony Wong singled her out for criticism and ridicule as a pseudo-model (models without formal training and who don’t meet the criteria for catwalk models, what the Chinese refer to as lang mo) calling them “bimbos”. Second, after slaving away in thankless decorative and flower vase roles of no real weight or importance in romances, ghost horrors, and comedies for almost a decade Beach Spike (2011) was sweet Chrissie’s first genuine hit and signaled that her career was on the uptick. 2013 was a busy year for her. In just twelve months Chau was in a whopping 11 (!!) movies including, but not limited to, Kick Ass Girls (2013), Cold Pupil (2013), and The Extreme Fox (2013). Of course, since sweet Chrissie cuts a dashing 32D figure you can bet that she’ll be changing clothes and taking a shower. This being Mainland China everything always stays within the realms of respectability.

Even in such a target-rich environment as the Mainland China ghost horror scene Lift to Hell is an abomination. Mired with a mess of a screenplay as well as cinematography and special effects that range from decent to amateuristic Lift to Hell is hardly a vital contribution to the subgenre. How many completely telegraphed (not to mention, obvious) jump-scares and creepy shots of darkened interiors can you throw at the viewer before boredom inevitably sets in? This is about as close to furniture - or interior design porn as you’re likely to get. There are endless meandering semi-creepy digital effects shots of elevator that you’d swear this is a Sino take on The Lift (1983) (which it isn’t, although it tries very hard to). How many shots of sweet Chrissie looking misty-eyed or constipated does the world really need? Cold Pupil (2013) had the good grace to make Chau an active participant in the plot. In what little Lift to Hell distinguishes itself from any other Mainland China ghost horror is that sweet Chrissie is given the opportunity to play multiple roles. Not that that in itself in any way an innovation, it’s an age-old continental European gothic horror convention dating back at least to the mid-sixties. The only really interesting thing that the screenplay has on offer is the explanation for its ghost. Not that that is much of a compliment as this is what Mainland China ghost horror is rightly infamous for. The law forbids it. There are no, and will not be any, ghosts, ever, in a Mainland China ghost horror. There are some mild allusions to the Diyu (地獄, or "earth prison”) of Chinese folk religion (that blends concepts of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism) but nothing is ever done with it.

Once every blue moon Lift to Hell generates a pulse and when it does so it’s able to conjure up a decent spooky image or good sound design. However rare said occurances might be it’s faint praise for a production abiding by pretty much all of the tried-and-true conventions. Lift to Hell is so rife with clichés and contrivances that it’s more fun to predict what’s going to happen next than it’s interested in scaring the viewer. On the whole it’s closer to We Are Not Alone (2016) in that it’s a good enough little genre exercise but nothing particularly compelling or even all that well written. It’s not nearly as subtextually rich as Verónica (2017) or P (2005). Chrissie Chau Sau-Na is easy enough on the eyes but at this point Blue Lan Cheng-Lung was a bigger star than she was. This means Chau’s relegated to the default position of love interest and Lift to Hell gives her practically nothing to work with. Not that sweet Chrissie is able to lift elevate Lift to Hell beyond the trite and mediocre. Don’t go in expecting a contemplative, introspective slowburn as Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku: The Sinners of Hell (地獄) (1960) neither hope for a grotesque bloodfeast with Mario Bava-esque lightning and set design in the way of Teruo Ishii's Jigoku: Japanese Hell (地獄) (1999). China, or Hong Kong, has spawned far better crafted ghost movies than Lift to Hell. This is not it.


Plot: trauma transforms demure small-town girl into gun-toting angel of death.

Karateci Kiz (Karate Girl in most of the English territories, Golden Girl in certain European markets, and Golden Karate Girl in most of Scandinavia) is a peculiar regional variant on an established (and often imitated) formula. At heart it’s a convergence of at least two, possibly three, cinematic trends popular at the international box office of the day. It combines the first half of The Last House on the Left (1972) (Italy in particular took to imitating it with zest around this time) with the damaged vigilante subplot straight out of Thriller – En Grym Film (1973). If that weren’t enough of a volatile combination in and of itself director Orhan Aksoy spices the entire thing up with some pretty decent kung fu as Hong Kong martial arts imports were all the rage around this time. It’s not exactly TNT Jackson (1974) or Cleopatra Wong (1978) nor was that ever the intention. What makes it different from other rank exploitation from this period is that it does so on a basis of filial piety and traditional values of warm relationships, friendship, family, and the stoic belief in all things ending well.

Every country has its superstars. For Turkey that was Filiz Akin. Along with Türkan Şoray, Hülya Koçyiğit and Fatma Girik, she was one of the four queens of the Yeşilçam (Green Pine) era or the Golden Age of Turkish cinema. A bright young talent of a generation out to innovate domestic cinema and beloved at home for her "noble, modern, urban and elegant face".

Thanks to her academic background Filiz worked at the Ankara branch of American Export-Isbrandtsen Lines. In her two years there she rose to head of the marine branch. It’s here that she became fluent in English, French, and even a bit of Italian. During said employment she attended Ankara University, Faculty of Language, History and Geography for a semester studying archeology. After winning an Artist magazine contest she debuted in Akasyalar Açarken (1962), one of six movies she appeared in that year. IMDB meanwhile insists that her debut was Sahte nikah (1962). Filiz was wed to screenwriter, producer, and director Türker İnanoğlu in 1964 but the two separated somewhere in 1974. After another marriage that lasted from 1982 to 1993 Akin married Turkish diplomat Sönmez Köksal with president Süleyman Demirel and Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Hüsamettin Cindoruk in attendance. The two have been together ever since.

Filiz appeared in a staggering 122 films (mostly dramas, comedies, and romances) in the thirteen years between 1962 and 1975. Among many others she could be seen in Çitkirildim (1966) with Cüneyt Arkin, as well as Fadime (1970) with Cihangir Gaffari. Gaffari would make appearances in Shaft's Big Score! (1972), The Demons (1973), Hundra (1983), and Bloodsport (1988). One of Akin’s more remembered roles was that in Istanbul Tatili (1968), a domestic remake of the Hollywood blockbuster Roman Holiday (1953). She won the Golden Orange Award Best Actress for Ankara Ekspresi (1971) on the International Antalya Film Festival that year. As near as we can tell Karate Girl was the only exploitationer Filiz ever partook in, but it’s one worth remembering.

While not many names in the rest of the cast stand out, two among the credited karatekas went on to have long careers in Turkish politics. Little is known about Hazır Lamistir or what has become of him but the same cannot be said of Orhan and Ahmet Doğan, if the two men two men appearing here are indeed the very same. Given their association with Akin and Ankara University being their alma mater it’s all a bit much to write off as mere coincidence. Orhan Doğan would be elected to the Turkish Parliament in 1991 and later join the centre-left Democracy Party (DEP). He would proliferate himself as an ardent defender of Kurdish rights and serve as a member of the Grand National Assembly from 1991-1994. In 1994 he was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for his association with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partîya Karkerên Kurdistanê or PKK). As a political prisoner he was the subject of the Hasan Kiraç television documentary Demokrasi Yokusu in 1997. After his release in 2004 he helped found the Democratic Society Party (DTP). Ahmet Dogan served as the chairman of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) from 1990 to 2013. It's also entirely possible that Orhan Doganer was just one of the production's martial arts instructors.

Zeynep (Filiz Akin) is a simple countrygirl making an honest living as a florist in Istanbul selling the flowers that her old father (Nubar Terziyan) grows on his farm on the outskirts of town. Since losing her mother at an early age Zeynep has been rendered mute. Together with her father she has been duly saving money for an expensive surgery that her doctor (Yilmaz Gruda) believes will restore her speech. Meanwhile on the other end of town a vicious and assorted gang of thieves, extortionists, rapists, and murderers - Ferruh Durak (Bülent Kayabaş), Riza Çakoz (Kudret Karadag), Kasim Arpaci (Oktay Yavuz), and Cafer Durak (Necati Er) – led by Bekir Bulut (Hayati Hamzaoglu) escape trial and confinement by murdering on-duty cop Hasan Çetin (Ahmet Kostarika) and disappearing into the thick blackness of the night. Insinuating themselves into the homestead Zeynep’s father makes nothing of the fast-talking band of vagrants naively imparting their present situation with them. Bulut and his bandits ransack the place, steal the savings, and callously murder the old man for his trouble when he offers up token but futile resistance. When Zeynep returns home after a hard day’s work she not only finds her father’s lifeless body but to make matters worse she’s violated by Bulut and left for dead. The trauma is so profound that Zeynep regains her speech. She vows to avenge her dear father and robbed innocence.

One day menial laborer Murat Akdogan (Ediz Hun) comes looking for work on the farm only to find Zeynep practice target shooting. Law enforcement and the authorities have been powerless to apprehend the extremely dangerous and fugitive convicts. Bulut in the meantime has reconnected with his former paramour (Sema Yaprak) unaware that Murat is a cop working deeply undercover to locate and arrest him and his gang of bovine brutes. Zeynep on her part becomes gradually aware of Murat’s true motives as he instructs her in target shooting, mortal combat, and enrolls her in the local karate dojo. Zeynep and Murat fall in love and eventually are wed. On her wedding day Bekir and his bandits crash the ceremony leaving Murat among the victims. Torn by trauma and grief Zeynep enrolls in police academy and continues training in karate. Upon successfully graduating from both she systematically hunts down each of the perpetrators. Trapping Bekir in his studio apartment she unleashes her righteous vengeance upon him for taking the lives of not only her old father but her husband as well.

Produced by İnanoğlu’s own Erler Film and made with participation of the Istanbul police force Karate Girl was a vehicle for Filiz Akin to undergo a sort of Soledad Miranda or Edwige Fenech-like reinvention. Apparently rushed into production to coast off the notoriety of Thriller – A Grim Film (1973) Orhan Aksoy, a celebrated specialist of melodramas in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was just about the last person you’d expect to be directing something like this. Aksoy was one of the forefathers of 'muhalle' cinema, or the Turkish equivalent of the German Heimatfilme, and as such he was a reliable provider in wholesome family entertainment. Twice had he been given the Best Film Award on the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival. Once in 1970 for Kinali Yapincak (1969) and then again in 1973 for Hayat mi Bu? (1973). To say that Karate Girl was something not in his usual wheelhouse would be putting in mildly. Whether the same rung true for writers Fuat Özlüer and Erdogan Tünas we honestly can’t say but given the company they kept it’s entirely plausible. Most of the music was lifted from another production, although various blogs over the years have failed to mention which. Assistant director Samim Utku would become a prolific writer in Turkish television and build a respectable career as a director. Was this a last-ditch effort on İnanoğlu’s part to save his failing marriage to Akin? Not many contemporary reviews seem interested to delve into the history of Karate Girl and the people behind it.

The similarities between the two are startlingly distinct, but so are the differences. Both feature protagonists rendered mute by trauma and Madeleine/Frigga as well as Zeynep both come from the countryside. Both are triggered into a homicidal frenzy by the loss of a loved one (Madeleine/Frigga loses her best friend, Zeynep her father) and both undergo weapons, martial arts, and close quarter combat training by a police officer friendly to their plight. Also not unimportant is that both women experience sexual trauma at the hand of their wrongdoers. Whereas Thriller – A Grim Film (1973) relished in showing just that in explicit detail it is implied rather than shown here. Where Karate Girl differs most significantly is during its second half. Here it suddenly changes into a procedural once Zeynep completes her police training. She starts tracking down and apprehending the perpetrators one by one. That being different the conclusion is mostly the same, only does Zeynep bloodily dispose herself of the main culprit in what looks like an exact re-enactment of Thriller’s legendary finale. In 2012 Karate Girl for a brief spell was popular on social media as the final shoot-out was bombarded to “worst death scene ever” exposing an entire new generation to it. In an interesting duality Aksoy was able to fuse muhalle values with rank exploitation. How this fared with Turkish audiences at the time is near impossible to gauge. What is certain is that it didn’t tarnish Akin nor her cleanly image or reputation. Likewise did Orhan Aksoy find incredible success with romantic comedies in the next decade.

In retrospect and with the benefit of nearly five decades of hindsight it’s puzzling that Karate Girl remains ever as obscure. This undoubtedly had a profound influence in shaping Cirio H. Santiago's Naked Vengeance (1985). At home its closest cousin was perhaps something like Cellat (1975) which gave Michael Winner’s vigilante thriller Death Wish (1974) (with Charles Bronson) a Turkish make-over. Once divorced from İnanoğlu Akin continued with wholesome dramatic and comedic roles. Never again would she lower herself to rank exploitation like this. Just how much of an anomaly Karate Girl is for most of the principal players in front and behind the cameras is mystifying and interesting enough all by itself. It makes you pine for a tell-all confessional on what was happening behind the scenes while it was being conceptualized. Turkey has a long and storied history in playing fast and loose with international licensing and distribution rights, and the country had a prolific exploitation industry that was even more shameless than that of the Philippines. Karate Girl is the exception and a curiosity as it was an exploitationer made by otherwise respectable people cashing in on what seemed like a lucrative trend. Is this the greatest that Turkish exploitation has ever wrought? Probably not but it’s damn entertaining.