Sammo Hung’s take on horror-comedy is funny if sometimes pretty standard
“Being chased by ghosts is still better than sleeping with you.”
There really aren’t that many good horror-themed martial arts movies. There’s Mr. Vampire, and … Blood: The Last Vampire? Does that count? If that does, then surely also Blade and oh man we’re already way off topic here. And if there aren’t that many horror martial arts films, there sure as hell aren’t going to be many comedy-horror martial arts films. Again, there’s pretty much just Mr. Vampire and A Chinese Ghost Story, and also this.
But it’s more than that: Encounters actually has a few decent claims to its name. As a jiangshi film (which I thought was an oddly specific genre, until I remembered in the West we have zombie and vampire films), Encounters is the great-granddaddy of them all, much like Night of the Living Dead or Nosferatu and it also helped popularise the comedy horror genre in Hong Kong, and that’s no small feat. So what’s it all about?
Encounters of the Spooky Kind or as it’s known in China “Ghost fights ghost” is one of the rare examples where the translated title is less shitty than the original, as I’m pretty sure no two ghosts fight each other at any point in this film. It centres around Bold Cheung (Sammo Hung), whose wife (Leung Suet-mei) is having an affair with his employer Master Tam (Huang Ha). Tam is worried Cheung will find out, so (because Cheung is great at martial arts) he hires a witch to summon some ghosts to kill him.
The witch’s assistant Priest Tsui (Chung Fat) dislikes this and decides to help Cheung, who is tricked into spending the night in a haunted house. With Tsui’s aid, Cheung is able to fend off the spirits for several nights. However, the plot thickens when Cheung is framed the murder of his wife, and the only solution is to kick things in the face a lot.
What I love about this film is that the plot is so deliriously basic. It doesn’t mess around, either, preferring instead to tell its story and then end in that weird Hong Kong style where movies just sort of stop immediately after the final boss, as if they couldn’t be bothered to hang around for the final cutscene. At least here, Sammo takes the time after the big fight to punch a woman over and over, before throwing her.
It’s marginally less monstrous in context (she’s a terrible person).
Oddly enough, it takes a bit of time to really get started with the story of the cheating wife and the dickbag boss. In Encounters, Sammo takes the time to establish a mood by giving us a few unrelated ghost mishaps, including a dream sequence. These are pretty enjoyable snippets, but somewhat confusing. Near the beginning of the film, a friend challenges Cheung to stay in a haunted house, in order to trick him. The ghosts turn out to be real, but it’s a weird coincidence that Cheung has two completely unrelated ghost encounters within the span of a couple of days. But like I said, they establish the tone of the film pretty well, so it’s not like it’s a waste of the audience’s time.
Encounters of the Spooky Kind is a classic Hong Kong comedy and it’s not hard to see why. Adding ghosts into the mix makes for a lot of fresh ideas being thrown about and with that comes some inventive martial arts, jokes and even the general tomfoolery of the best Sammo Hung films feels like it’s been injected with a dose of energy and – ironically – life. It isn’t always funny, and sometimes feels like it’s trying to be more serious than it should be, but all in all, it’s treated with a lighthearted edge. As for the rest of it a lot of it is predictable and fairly standard Sammo stuff, but he does it all with confidence and panache which ultimately pays off.
Verdict: It’s not perfect but Sammo Hung’s beat-em-up horror-comedy has plenty going for it and makes for fun, refreshing entertainment
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Encounters of a Spooky Nature: Plenty
Cheung’s friends: I think they’re gone forever
Sleeping next to corpses: Apparently just a normal thing back then
Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)
Aka 鬼打鬼 (Ghost vs Ghost), Spooky Encounters, Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind
Director: Sammo Hung
Writers: Sammo Hung, Huang Ying
Sammo Hung – Bold Cheung
Chung Fat – Priest Tsui
Huang Ha – Master Tam
Lam Ching-ying – Inspector
Chan Lung – Priest Chin Hoi
To Siu-ming – Ah To
Dick Wei – Master Lok
Cheung Ging-boh – Uncle Fok
Tai Bo – Adviser Lau
Yuen Miu – Ah To’s friend / Prison Guard
Pang Yun-cheung – Ah To’s friend
Wellson Chin – Police officer
Ng Min-kan – Police officer
Leung Suet-mei – Cheung’s wife
Billy Chan – Cheung’s friend
Fung Ging-man – Peeping Tom
Ho Pak-kwong – Peeping Tom
Yuen Biao – Vampire
Lau Chau-sang – Guard
Wu Ma – Ah Chiu Fa Kau