Encounter of the Spooky Kind

Sammo Hung directed and starred in this ground-breaking film that was one of the first to effectively combine both kung fu and the supernatural. Though made nearly 20-years ago in 1980, the film still feels very fresh and holds up as a very entertaining bit of fun. This film along with others from some of the New Wave directors – Tsui Hark, Ann Hui  etc. – sent HK cinema off in new and exciting directions during the 1980’s.

This is also one of the first films to use one of my favorite staples of the HK supernatural films – the hopping vampire. In most of the films that I have seen them in I can’t honestly say they are particularly frightening – having to hop makes getting away from them seem much too easy – but they are a wonderful cinematic device. Chinese hopping vampires are not vampires in the same way as Dracula – as they are actually reanimated corpses –  zombies really  - who often get quite hungry for human flesh. Their feet being tied together causes the hopping motion.

Sammo – named Courageous Cheung in the film – lives in a small town at some point long in the past and he soon has his simple life turned upside down by a number of encounters with the supernatural. His friends bet him that he doesn’t have the courage to peel an apple at midnight in front of a mirror. If the skin gets broken they tell Sammo – he will have many problems – but if he can peel it without breaking the skin he will get a free lunch. Well, Sammo is not one to pass up a free meal! His friends play some practical jokes on him to try and scare him, but a real ghost shows up and snatches his friend through the mirror. Strangely enough, this incident is forgotten the next day and this thread of the film is never taken up again. Must have been a common occurrence in those days!

Sammo and Chung Fat
The main story revolves around Sammo and his unfaithful wife. She is carrying on an affair with Sammo’s boss – Master Tam - while Sammo is happily taking his afternoon break eating tofu. One day though Sammo almost catches them in the act and Master Tam decides that Sammo must be taken care of. To do this he hires a Taoist priest (Chan Lung) - to use Black Magic to kill Sammo. Fortunately his ethical younger brother (Chung Fat) who is also a Taoist priest learns of the scheme and lends his services to Sammo.
Sammo and Wu Ma
Sammo somehow gets himself involved in another bet – with Wu Ma who is in cahoots with the bad guys – and he has to spend two nights locked in a temple with a hopping vampire. The scenes of Sammo trying to first hide – on the beams above, under the coffin and finally in the coffin - and then fight the vampire are great. When this doesn’t work, Master Tam frames Sammo for his wife’s murder and policeman Lam Ching-ying is soon pursuing Sammo across the countryside. In the final encounter Sammo takes on the spirit of the Monkey King to fight the evil doers.
Lam Ching-ying
The film is very well paced – never flags – and has some excellent action scenes and some comedic moments as well. One of the best scenes epitomizes this combination. Sammo is having lunch at an inn while on the run from Lam Ching-ying when a spell is put on his left arm and he loses control of it and it starts attacking everyone. This brings him to the attention of Lam and his troops and in a wonderfully choreographed piece they attack Sammo. After Sammo beautifully defends himself – he takes on a self-satisfied smile – and sits on a bench – only to have it break under his weight and he is sent sprawling to the floor.

My rating for this film: 8.0