Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Director: Sammo Hung

I pulled this one off the shelf cos one of my Twitter friends mentioned this afternoon that they were watching it, which struck me as an entirely good idea so I copied it. A bit of Sammo Hung never goes too far wrong, of course, and this is a particularly good example of his work; maybe less heavy on the actual martial artistry than usual—we’re nearly halfway through the film before we get the first real fight—but the action stuff is good nonetheless (I mean, really, just watch the guy move; he is quite incredible). However, this film had different things on its mind, setting out to do something Hong Kong cinema hadn’t really done before in quite this way, which was to mash up the kung fu film with horror and comedy; the end result was one of the big hits of the early 80s at home, though apparently the few Western audiences who saw it at the time (it actually played Cannes in 1981) were mostly perplexed by it. To me, of course, it’s just a stellar example of the horror comedy, given an additional flavour by the particular Chinese folkloric and religious elements that underpin it; the Taoist magical warfare on show is obviously markedly different to the business in Universal and Hammer. Anyway, the setting is circa 1900, Sammo is “Bold” Cheung, a carriage driver whose wife is fooling around with his employer, the magistrate Tam; when the latter is nearly caught in flagrante delicto, he decides Cheung has to be disposed of, and what better way to do so than by black magic? So enter Master Chin to do the deed… but enter also his fellow priest Master Tsui to look out for Cheung’s interests. All of this is terrific, of course; Chung Fat is a lot of fun as Tsui, but Sammo obviously wins as the everyman Cheung, blessed with some martial arts ability but really out of his depth. Plus he just makes the film work so well as both horror and comedy, pulling off some amazing moments of comic suspense; the scene where he’s on the run from the authorities and inadvertently reanimates a corpse that mimics his actions (including when he goes to take a piss) is especially marvellous. Delighted to see this again.

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