Saturday, January 15, 2011

REVIEW: Spooky Encounters

Spooky Encounters
Director: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Year 1980

Spooky Encounters, or Encounter of the Spooky Kind as the title above suggests, is a hell of a fun ride that pits hapless Sammo Hung against an assortment of ghosts and ghouls resulting in a number of comedic outcomes at the actors expense. Man is this a fun movie that you can just sit down and enjoy. I feel I've been doing the blogosphere a disservice by not mentioning Sammo Hung before this review, because the man is a legend among Hong Kong cinephiles. He's starred in countless Hong Kong flicks and has directed just as many. The man is right up there with Jackie Chan in my book.

You've screwed me for the last time granny smith apple.
The plot of this comedic ghostly tale follows a man by the name of Bold Cheung. Cheung compulsively bets on anything to prove how courageous he is and this unsensible nature gets him into a whole heap of trouble. The story really starts to kick into gear when we find out that Cheung's wife has been cheating on him and with his own boss. Unknown to Cheung, he mistakingly gets close to the truth of his wife's infidelity and his boss seems it a necessary evil to plan his murder by employing the dark arts of a taoist priest. As you can imagine things get a little hairy for poor old Bold Cheung as the dark priest attempts to raise the dead in order to hunt down Cheung.

Smell my finger.
This film has a great mixture of comedy and horror that borderlines on slapstick. It has its sense of horror elements, but there's nothing here that will scare the pants off you. It's more of an atmospheric approach that the horror is infused into the film. Either way, the visuals are creepy as hell and the images of an undead mummy-like vampire as it bursts from its coffin to begin searching for Bold Cheung is surprisingly chilling for the mostly comedic approach of the overall tone of the film. There were parts that kind of stuck with me, only to be lost in the laughter that soon came pouring from my shit eating grin.

The Bangles new smash hit song, Walk Like An Undead Zombie.
Comedy is a hard thing to pull off, let alone while bridging the gap between East and Western cultures, but Sammo does a marvelous job in playing the bumbling idiot that always seems to come out of any situation unscathed. The comedic slapstick performances that he choreographs, is similar to how he would map out a fight sequence. Every move is planned to perfection and it all resembles the fluent movements of a ballet. Not only does his mastery show in his performance, but it also carries over into his directorial efforts.

When two become one. How Romantic.
Sammo keeps the flow of the film at a steady pace and always seems progressive as he pushes the narrative along. The fight sequences, the slapstick scenes, and the explanatory portions of this film all move at top speed, sometimes even mingling into each other, combining segments into an almost hybrid form of cinematic art. There are many moments where Hung combines the comedic slapstick stylings with the punch and kick motions of the fight choreography. This is not so unbelievable, because fellow action star and good friend Jackie Chan has the same trademark of combining comedy and action to blend as one. The mixture is accomplished perfectly and Sammo Hung shines on all fronts.

They may be dead, but damn can they sing.
Back to the horror elements of the story. Sammo seems to delight in the macabre aspects of the production, filming the atmospherically haunting locations with an expert eye. The look and feel of the film resembles something Hammer Films would have put out during their tremendous run as the go to studio for all things from the grave. The foggy, dark lit exteriors and the cold gothic locales really compliment the attributes that made Hammer a household name.

Can I use the restroom?
Spooky Encounters actually reminds me a lot of an earlier collaboration between Europe and Hong Kong, where the Shaw Brothers teamed with Hammer Films to make the vampire kung fu epic, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. That Peter Cushing starrer shares the same visual aesthetics that Spooky Encounters seems to revel in. It wouldn't be hard to imagine that Sammo had found some sort of inspiration in that 1974 film when he planned to bring his comedic horror movie to life.

We're here to avenge the death of granny smith apple.
We're treated to all kinds of ghosts and ghouls in this film, from zombies, vampires, and even get a bit of magic thrown in there too. It seems like the film is just bursting with supernatural flavor. The sequences where we get to see into the inner workings of the dark arts, when Cheung's attempted killer is performing the ritualistic rites to unleash all hell onto poor Cheung, is a very animated and lively sequence of events. The over the top production of calling to life the undead, is highly entertaining and Sammo's choice of combining this with the previously mentioned comedic elements works perfectly off each other. Nothing like seeing a man being launched high up into the air by an unseen force.

I ain't scared of no ghosts.
Another highlight of the film is the numerous fight scenes that we are treated to. These scenes are well up to the high benchmark that other Sammo Hung films are held at. He treats the film like any other action film, and really respects the notion of having a well thought out and choreographed fight scene. His hardened discipline soaks through every celluloid filled shot as we marvel at the fast paced action set upon the screen. It's nice to know that even though this film is mainly focused on being a horror comedy piece, that he still has time to inject some of his patented kung fu specialties to the proceedings. In fact this film is pretty high on the list of his best works in the kung fu discipline department.

You gonna eat that skittle on your forehead?
To top off this entertaining whirlwind of a film, we are given the single most outrageous and ultimately most satisfying ending to a film known to man. I'm not going to give it away, but let's just say that you've never seen anything like this before. I was knocked off my feet on how over the top it was, yet how absolutely appeasing the final moments of this film are. I literally laughed out loud in sheer joy at how abrupt and frankly vicious this moment quickly becomes. I've never witnessed anything like this before in all of the thousands of movies I've been privileged to see and I'm pretty damn sure that I'll see nothing like it again. If that doesn't peak your interest and get you titillated into seeing this film, then my friend you might already be dead.

Best ending ever!
Spooky Encounters is the best at what it does. It delivers fast paced action, with creepy atmosphere, and spot on slapstick performances by Sammo and company. If there was ever a Hong Kong comedy that I'd be pressed to recommend, then it would be this film. It does everything right in all departments. It's a seemingly simple film, yet has many intricate things going for it. To be able to accomplish a film that combines comedy, horror, and action and to do it so effortless, well you have to give it up for Sammo Hung. The man is a master at what he does and what he does is entertain us to no end. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys Hong Kong cinema and to horror fans that like to branch out every so often.

4 out of 5 stars    A Horror, Action, Comedy Hong Kong Delight!

1 comment:

  1. Too bad there don't seem to be many other decent hopping vampire movies besides this and Mr. Vampire