Sunday, June 06, 2021

The Tag Along: Devil Fish

What goes better with possessed fish, some nice lemon rice or creamy kale? Regardless, a well-to-do businessman does indeed eat such a fish while enjoying a mountain vacation. Subsequently, he murders his entire family. The perp is so unnatural, the cops themselves take him to Master Tiger priest Lin Chi-cheng. Ordinarily, a fish would be no match for a big cat like Master Tiger, but the ancient demon-battling spirit has not entered Lin’s body since he lost his faith. Unfortunately, mere mortal exorcism techniques will not be enough in David Chuang’s The Tag Along: Devil Fish, which releases Tuesday on DVD.

Lin still manages to banish weaker evil spirits, as two boys working on a school film project happen to witness. They are still there when the freaked-out cops bring the possessed Hung to the Master Tiger temple. Lin thought he managed to transfer the nasty archdemon back into a fish, but foolish young Chia-hao manages to save it, or rather the smaller fish it expells in a pool of blood. Presumably, he thought it could dramatically enhance his exorcism film, but any or horror fan knows this is a bone-headed move. Chia-hao learns that for himself when the demon takes possession of his fragile single mother, Huang Ya-hui.

Things really get messy when the pianist Huang plays a demonic maelstrom of a recital for Chia-hao’s music class. With chaos and panic spreading, Lin and his cop contact try to sleuth out why Hung was such easy prey for possession. It turns out there is indeed a skeleton in his closet (almost literally), but there is also an ancient grudge match playing out.

Right, so obviously it is safer to stick with red meat or pork. Even though
Devil Fish is technically the third installment of the Tag Along franchise, it is considered a prequel to the second film and has few obvious ties to the first, so it easily stands alone. Like its precursors, the best elements of the film are those drawn from Taiwanese urban legends and its Taoist and animist folklore.

The resulting atmosphere is amazing, but the pacing is somewhat less so. Yet, it all still works, because like its Catholic possession movie brethren,
Devil Fish maintains a conviction that demonic evil is a very real, tangible, and terrifying force.

The strong cast also helps. Rexen Cheng [Jen Shuo] broods as hard as anyone playing Lin. It is a quiet performance, but in an intense (rather than dull) kind of way. Yet, veteran thesp Lung Shao-hua might just outdo him as Lin’s steely father, also a Master Tiger priest. Standout Vivian Hsu’s portrayal of Huang is just a spectacular mess, first neurotically and then demonically, but it is always believable.

Taiwan is developing into a major horror film powerhouse. It is easy to speculate why the genre would be therapeutic for the independent nation. After all, they live a mere 2,100 kilometers from an evil empire hell-bent on their conquest. In the case of
Devil Fish, its Taiwanese localism really helps differentiate and elevate it from the pack. Recommended for horror fans, The Tag Along: Devil Fish releases this Tuesday (6/8) on DVD.