Friday, January 13, 2023

Film Rolls, Round 7: The Dead and the Deadly and The Haunted Cop Shop

This isn't the first round that works as a themed pairing - things started off with two silent collections, after all - but the board has kind of been set up to make it relatively rare, with the boxes mostly ordered in such a way that you'll jump from one era/country to another frequently, although pieces tend to be kind of in the same general area, so that if the pieces are sticking close to each other, and a period contains a lot of movies from the same genre, you can have both "players" wind up in early-1980s Hong Kong supernatural comedies.

A 19 lets Mookie jump pretty far ahead into the next box, landing on The Dead and the Deadly, which stars Sammo Hung and has him messing around with the supernatural and supernatural-adjacent, which I gather he did a lot as Hong Kong cinema tried to ride a post-Ghostbusters wave. This particular movie predates that import; it's not like Hong Kong needs western influences to do ghost stories.

A week or so later, Bruce rolls a 15 and hits The Haunted Cop Shop, I actually saw the sequel to this coughcoughcough years ago, possibly as a sort of adjunct to a Wong Kar-Wai series because everybody has to start somewhere, like John Sayles writing Alligator.

So how'd the boys do?
Ren xia ren (The Dead and the Deadly)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

I joke about Sammo Hung doing a lot of these supernatural kung fu comedies, but when you consider he's had nearly 200 roles, four or five of them isn't actually that many. He's had a lot more parts where he's credited as "Fatty", and it's not exactly always body positivity, but the thing about that is, the extra weight made Sammo less obviously toned and trained than someone like Jackie Chan or Yuen Biao, so he could kind of blunder through this sort of adventure naively, ready to freak out. When the time for a little kung fu slapstick came, he could both surprise and sell it.

It's still a bit odd watching him play this sort of goofy man-child, an undertaker's assistant whose being in the wrong place at the wrong time gets him the middle of a man faking his death in an inheritance scam on the one hand and some actual bits with ghosts on the other, all while being too much of a doofus to realize that the pretty (but similarly odd) Siu Yuen, played by Cherie Chung Cho-Hung. It's the sort of very silly thing that winds up spiraling far enough out of wacky capers and into something kind of genuinely nasty that Sammo is going to have to use his screen-fighting skills in actual fights as opposed to slapstick, although that buildup is done pretty well here.

The bulk of the movie is the silly stuff, though, and while a lot of it hinges on people being cringe-inducingly dumb, Sammo and director/co-star Wu Ma come up with a lot of pretty darn good slapstick, an impressive blend of tacky situations and quality physical comedy that hits a nice sweet spot. The trick in these things is to have them seem to reel out of control but stretch it out with physical gags that go just right every time. The film isn't quite wall-to-wall with that - it's the sort of dumb comedy that sort of lurches from one thing to the next when it could have flowed with just a little more effort and less chance of someone checking out - but it works often enough that you can see why Sammo Hung got associated with this sort of comedy for a while.

Mang gwai chai goon (The Haunted Cop Shop)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

This wasn't quite the last non-auteur film to have a script by Wong Kar-Wai before he could really focus on his own art-house material - As Tears Go By would come out the next year but there were still a couple action flicks in the pipeline - but it's interesting because this film's director, Jeffrey Lau Chun-Wai, would go on to produce many of Wong's films, even though most of his career was more in line with another frequent collaborator, Stephen Chow. If you're looking at hints of what Wong would become soon afterward in this, you're going to have to squint (although, amusingly future art-house favorite Fruit Chan can be found in an uncredited part).

Not that where this film sits in terms of Hong Kong (and world cinema) history really matters; dial back the strangely good pedigree and it's a solidly entertaining horror-comedy. Like a lot of Hong Kong comedies, it is thoroughly screwball - it starts off with the premise that a police station was a Japanese army post during WWII, and the ghosts who of the Japanese soliders killed there want to resurrect, but they're going to do so as vampires. Plus the cops are moonlighting, one of them was once an item with their superintedant, there's a cute new policewoman, a snitch who has been brought in gets in the middle of it, and so on. There are things that Kam Mark-K (Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau) and Man-Chill (Ricky Hui Koon-Ying) have to do to keep this all from becoming a disaster, but they're more likely to stumble through them than actually get heads-down and act like they're on a mission.

I kind of admire that; there's a shift in a lot of American action/fantasy/horror/comedies of this sort where everything gets kind of serious, at least in terms of events (characters will mcontinue to quip but their actions get less chaotic), and while some of that happens here, Mark-K and Man-Chill never actually stop being slackers or reluctant heroes. There are times when I'm not sure the gags are really good enough to make up for a story and charactes who exist as the shortest path to the next joke as opposed to being interesting themselves, but the movie's short, the vibe is right, and the folks involved make it a fun curiosity.

Two right down the middle doesn't change the standings at all:

Mookie: 26 ½ stars

Bruce: 36 ¼ stars

But, though we're zoomed in too close to see it below, there's plenty of board left for Mookie to chip away at Bruce's lead.

Next up: More from Hong Kong!

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