REVIEW: DVD Release: Encounters Of The Spooky Kind

Film: Encounters Of The Spooky Kind
Release date: 12th November 2001
Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 mins
Director: Sammo Hung
Starring: Sammo Hung, Ha Huang, Dick Wei, Fat Chung, Lung Chan
Genre Martial Arts/Action/Comedy/Horror/Fantasy
Studio: E1
Format: DVD
Country: Hong Kong

To be credited with the creation of an entire sub-genre in the world of cinema is a desirable and enviable addition to any CV. Already an established and innovative actor, director and stunt choreographer, Sammo Hung decided to expand on his repertoire delivering supernatural/horror kung-fu to the world. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead even dropped a nod.

Encounters Of The Spooky Kind opens in a black and smoky backdrop, with two skeletons in broken funeral jars discussing ways to escape from hell. They spy our story protagonist, a drunken Bold Cheung. They decide to attack him as his flesh may be a way out. One bites away a lump of his leg, and thoughtfully chews, whilst the other tries to strangle him...

Snapping awake and realising it was an awful dream; Bold faces the reality of another day of a low-paid job and arguments with a pernickety spouse. She sees him as quite worthless, and taunts him with her new silk clothes, perhaps bought by a much wealthier lover?

Bold lives in near poverty in 1800s China, working as a driver for respected wealthy magistrate, Mr. Tam, who likes to frequent the local brothels. Bold distracts himself from his marriage troubles by making bets with his fellow eccentric drivers during his breaks. As his name suggests, he’s a braggart and won’t back away from a challenge, even if it’s based in the occult…

A scene mildly familiar to fans of future horror classic Candyman sees Cheung visit a ramshackle and supposedly haunted house to play Peel-Apple. He’s to skin the fruit without breaking the rind in front of a mirror. A good-humoured prank soon turns sinister as a real ghostly lady, half deformed, reaches through the glass and across the room for his soul. Bold manages to escape, this time, but unlucky events seem to be stacking against him.

Using a lunch break to try and catch his wife cheating, Bold spies through a crack in his front door to see her being caressed. After battling to break down the door, he finds her dressed and denying all knowledge. Again she goads him for his stupidity and sees he is carrying a cleaver. Whilst taunting him to kill her in front of their nosy neighbours, the cuckold finds a shoe that doesn’t fit him – does he finally have the evidence he needs?

An offer to stay locked in a Temple overnight with corpses is made by a stranger who knows of his reputation. Unable to resist the prize of some ten taels of silver if he succeeds, Bold sets off. A good wizard named Tsui (Fatt) makes his acquaintance in the woods to offer advice of how to stay alive – it’s a night with animated corpses. The corpses are an extension of an evil wizard, Hoi, who’s been paid to kill Bold.

Surviving the night dazed, he is let out of the Temple by the stranger. In a near catatonic state, he agrees to another night, and it starts to become clear to him he is not just gambling for money, he’s gambling with his life. Enlisting the help of the friendly Tsui, Bold makes repair for another night with chicken eggs and a wooden bowl of black dog legs and blood. The first fight scene sees Bold trying to keep the staccato corpses at bay with these ingredients, and some high-energy martial arts.

After his trails in the dusty Temple, Cheung comes home to find no wife but blood. Wrongly accused of his wife’s apparent murder, Bold is arrested by police chief (Lam Ching-Ying). He escapes prison to go on the run with not only the police Chief after him but also Hoi, both determined he should die.

Inspired dextrous fight sequences allow Hung to enlist his superior physical prowess and control. A tea-house fight scene features expert swordplay, whilst spiritual body possession sees a mish-mash of styles, such as monkey, facing off with spear-work and acrobatics. Hung’s unrivalled comedy vision adds its customary dash of fun with an anachronistic game of YMCA with a freshly animated maggot-ridden corpse.

Special effects are a victim of the era, but they charm the viewer rather than elicit derision. An example being the spectre of lady who reaches for our hero through the mirror - the elongated arms stretching for Bold evoke more of a smile than any terror. The blood of his ‘murder victim’ is an off colour runny paint, and the demonic manifestations seem too human and alive, yet this helps the movies abundant charm filter through. These minor niggles contrast with wonderful mood lighting, period 1800s settings and dress, and incidental music reminiscent of The Shining.

Encounters Of The Spooky Kind gives us an entertaining and ground-breaking example of a genre the East is now renowned for. JM

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