Tag Asian

Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Hapless servant Cheung finds out that his wife has been having an affair with his rich master Tam. Wanting to get Cheung out of the way, Tam enlists the services of an unscrupulous priest to do the deed with black magic so that fingers can’t be pointed back to him. But Cheung turns out to be no pushover and he must battle the supernatural and the uncanny with the help of the priest’s more righteous brother.

 

Cult classics don’t come as any more clear-cut than Encounter of the Spooky Kind, an off-beat kung fu-comedy-horror flick which is sort of like Enter the Dragon meets The Evil Dead. Responsible for kick-starting a whole slew of Hong Kong cinema in the 80s, Encounter of the Spooky Kind is a crazy ride right from the opening scene until the classic showdown at the end. Mixing comedy, horror and martial arts in equal measure, director and actor Sammo Hung crafts a wonderfully ludicrous tale of hopping vampires, black magic and possession.

There’s something for everyone here and each of the different genres are treat well. The horror elements are mainly played out in the opening half. Being from a different culture than we are used to in the West, it may take a while to get used to the fact that the Chinese definitions of vampires are totally different to what we’re used to. Here, they look more like our stereotypical zombies and hop around in a weird trance-like state with arms outstretched. The crusty, decomposing make-up looks good though and there are maggots flying about too to reinforce the fact that these are undead beings. The historical period setting and lavish, colourful sets enhances the atmosphere and mood of the piece, giving it a few Hammer-ish vibes. In many ways, I was reminded of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, a Hammer-Shaw Brothers production which laid much of the groundwork for this type of film to become successful. Despite the obvious low budget, Encounter of the Spooky Kind features some great make-up and the sets are excellent and the overall effect of the horror is, well, spooky.

With the horror flying around thick and fast to begin with, the action soon takes over in the second half and the kung-fu comes more to the fore. This leads up to a thrilling finale in which the forces of good and evil battle each other which is heavily dosed in Chinese folklore. Hung choreographs a number of impressive fight scenes, including between himself (and a possessed hand) and some policemen or two priests fighting it out with black magic. Playing out alongside both the horror and action is a nice comedic streak. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are some laugh out loud moments, particularly Cheung’s encounter with a reanimated corpse which copies his every move, right from taking a leak against the wall to slapping itself in the face.

Sammo Hung plays the role of bumbling oaf Cheung to perfection. You know that Cheung has a heart of gold but a brain the size of a pea and his reactions to the situations he’s thrust into are priceless. Hung demonstrates a Bruce Campbell-esque knack of convincingly portraying that part of his body has become possessed and is acting on its own during an amazing scene inside a restaurant which involves all manner of slapstick and high-octane martial arts. In fact, much of Hung’s comedy comes from physical slapstick and the larger-than-life actor utilises his size to his advantage in a number of hilarious scenes.

Lam Ching Ying also has a small role here as the police inspector. Along with Sammo, Lam was a major factor in this this surge of Hong Kong horror-martial arts and fronted the equally excellent Mr Vampire series until his untimely death. Whilst he’s not in his trademark Taoist priest role, he still manages to shine with a few moments of kung fu and comedy.

If there are quibbles with Encounters of the Spooky Kind, and believe me there are few, it is with the episodic nature of the film. Due to the fact that so many genres are all being blended together, the film does tend to become patchy and the framework linking them all together doesn’t really hold up, leading to long periods where the narrative dulls and the pace lags. You won’t have to wait too long before the pace picks up but the continual stop-start nature gets a little tiresome.

 

It’s hard to find a film which is as all-round fun and entertaining as Encounter of the Spooky Kind. If you have any sort of interest in any of the three major genres this film mixes together, then you should check this out. This, and many of its Hong Kong kung-fu horror comedies, aren’t exactly the easiest films to track down on the West but if you get the opportunity, take it!

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004)

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004)

Everybody is Zombie Fighting!

Two competing Shaolin monks are forced to team together to save Earth from a devastating army of darkness when one of them accidentally awakens the immortal King of the Vampires.

 

Trying to recapture the successful horror-comedy formula that spawned the likes of Encounters of the Spooky Kind and Mr Vampire in the 80s, Shaolin Vs Evil Dead fails pretty miserably. It’s got all the right ingredients: a wise monk, his bumbling apprentices, hopping vampires, rotting corpses, plenty of crazy martial arts and not a care in the world. So where does it all go horribly wrong?

Well Shaolin Vs Evil Dead just doesn’t mix the elements in a very exciting way. Yes we’ve got hopping vampires at the start but there’s no real purpose to them in the plot. We get zombies early on but again there’s little reason for them to be there. Things happen in the film that look pointless and a bit more context and story would have greatly helped to give meaning to everything. For instance why is the white monk travelling from town to town with a line of hopping vampires behind him? (I asked the same question in Mr Vampire – it seems to be a common occurrence in these films) It seems to be included solely for the convenient purpose of the vampires breaking their spells at some point which causes the monk to fight them and put them back under control. It’s hardly the ‘army of darkness’ that the plot promised and the action is very low key. You’d be expecting a whole lot more than it delivers.

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead contains the single-most infuriating ending ever. It’s not even a proper ending. The film just ends abruptly out of nowhere and without a proper resolution to what has been going on. Or so you think because what is worse is that the action continues. You would assume that the end credits would feature outtakes as many films do. But as the credits roll, footage of the big pay-off fight between good and evil is shown in a small box on the left hand side of the screen. We can see hundreds of hopping vampires, explosions and crazy martial arts but there’s no dialogue because the credits music has hit. It clearly looked like the best part of the film and it clearly wasn’t outtake footage – this is all new and unseen footage. Apparently, this was a ‘preview’ of a planned sequel which was eventually made the following year. Whilst one can understand the strategy of such a decision to include previews of the sequel (look at the post-credits sequence in Captain America: The First Avenger and its preview for The Avengers), the decision to just end the film as it did is a disgrace. Nearly everything that is promised in the plot for Shaolin Vs Evil Dead clearly takes place in this little box.

Gordon Liu, who appeared in Kill Bill, does a very good job of stepping up to the role of the white monk, a role personified by the late Ching-Ying Lam in the Mr Vampire movies. This sub-genre sort of died when he did and it’s good to see Liu step up to the plate with a solid performance, reflecting some of Lam’s mannerisms, attitude and ability to get the comedy timing down to a tee.

 

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead isn’t a bad attempt to revive the old Hong Kong horror/comedy genre so popular in the 80s but just fails to capture any charm and magic of those classic films. And that damn ending is a total kick below the belt. I would only recommend this if you had a copy of the sequel on hand to watch straight away to alleviate the pain of the sudden stopping (which I haven’t seen at time of writing, it’s near impossible to track down).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Samurai Zombie (2008)

Samurai Zombie (2008)

Dead … but still slicing!

A vacation goes horribly wrong for a family when they are car-jacked by a pair of ruthless bank robbers on the run. An accident strands the group in remote woods near to the abandoned site of Eight Spears Village. Here they encounter a group of undead warriors with an age-old grudge to settle and a knack for severing heads.

 

It’s got a premise which is low on complexity and high on potential but Samurai Zombie ultimately fails because of both counts. It’s too simple to really string itself out for ninety-one minutes and it fails to make use of its zombie stars to their full potential with a genuine lack of imagination in what they can do. I really wanted to like this simply because it’s called Samurai Zombie and the titular character is actually a decent creation. I mean we’ve had zombie pirates, zombie Nazis (can’t beat them!), zombie clowns, zombie cowboys…….the list could go on. Why not a samurai warrior?

Samurai Zombie gets down to business straight away as there’s a zombie attack within the first sixty seconds (nothing like starting a film with a bang) and then the main characters quickly come across the zombies about another twenty minutes. So far so good? But after this initial burst of energy, the pace of the film eases up dramatically. In fact it comes to a screeching halt. Samurai Zombie seems too eager to show off its zombies early on, thus peaking too early and leaving a big gaping section in the middle with little to no zombie action at all as the surviving characters explore the old village and look for somewhere to hide.

Trying to balance a health dose of humour with a side dosage of zombie trappings doesn’t work well at all. One of the characters here seems to be immortal as he survives various attempts to kill him but the fact he doesn’t die isn’t explained very well. A pair of cops have an amusing scene in which they try to one-up each other with increasingly bigger guns but as we all know, they won’t work on zombies unless you shoot them in the head. It’s just not crazy or zany enough given the history of some of the creative people involved (Ryûhei Kitamura directed the very bizarre Versus) and the constant shifts in tone from cartoon violence to trying to be morally serious just don’t work.

You’ll constantly get a wish for the film to pick up pace and keep to either being serious or silly just long enough for them to string some continuity together. So some scenes will have you laughing when you should be emotionally connecting with the characters in the face of death. And vice versa. A problem with comedy in films like this is evident if you don’t find the brand of humour amusing – it’ll just mean jokes and situations will pass you by which no doubt had one of the writers rolling around laughing.

At least they get the zombies right. The samurai warriors look great when they get unmasked. Faces filled with dripping puss, rotting maggots and bulging white eyes, these creatures stumble along like any classic Lucio Fulci zombie. It’s a far cry from the modern depiction of zombies are mere men with face paint and torn clothes. These walking corpses are the real deals. The added effect of the samurai costumes with full body armour and helmet only add to the potential of these creatures. They’re not used as much as they could be though and we don’t get to see a great deal of the zombies that are resurrected later on (I wanted to see more of the warrior with the bow and arrow).

I didn’t expect the body count to be overly high given the small cast but the film throws in the pair of cops as well as the crazy old coot who constantly tells the others that they’re going to die. Guess what happens to her! These zombies don’t eat human flesh which is about the only thing disappointing. They prefer to honour their victims by slicing off their heads with a bit of school sword slashing. The beheadings feature a ton of blood which is really over-the-top as decapitated heads are propelled hundreds of feet through the air with fountains of blood. I’m not quite sure whether it’s meant to be realistic or whether those geysers of red would greet the sight of anyone having their head sliced off so quickly but they look really out of place. The CGI blood overkill doesn’t help either.

 

Samurai Zombie will deliver a few thrills and spills for the more undemanding of horror fans who will instantly like this film just because it’s Japanese and therefore greater than anything from America. That’s not the case in reality as there’s a lot more mileage that Tak Sakaguchi could have got out of the idea.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wild Zero (1999)

Wild Zero (1999)

Trash and chaossss!!!!

Aliens are invading the planet and turning people into zombies! After saving his heroes, the band Guitar Wolf, from their manager, wannabe rocker Ace is made a blood brother of the band. When he gets caught up in the zombie carnage, he calls on Guitar Wolf for help.

 

How on Earth do I review Wild Zero? One of the craziest, most bizarre and downright loud films you’re ever likely to see, Wild Zero is a zombie film like never before. “This is Rock ‘n’ Roll jet movie” proclaims the front cover and I’d be hard pressed to disagree if I knew what that meant.

You could consider Wild Zero one long music video for the band Guitar Wolf as pretty much all of their screen time is taken up by them playing their tunes and shredding their guitars. They’re a very loud group, seemingly wanting to resurrect old school rock and roll music with a slightly newer, more polished twang to it. They are an effortlessly cool group, with the lead Guitar Wolf probably not looking out of place in a Tarantino flick. They like to comb their hair a lot and they wear leather jackets. The rest of the characters are just as crazy. You’ve got Ace, a guy who looks to have time travelled from the 50s. The band’s manager is a slimy piece of work, with a bowl hair cut and a pair of tiny short-shorts that may make a few viewers squirm in their seats at the thought something may pop out. You’ve got Tobio, a female with a secret. There’s a bitchy female weapons dealer. And a few shady Yakuza guys thrown in for good measure. Not a whole deal makes sense in the film so the characters get free-reign to go crazy at times and that they do.

Wild Zero rarely stops for breath either. If you’re not listening to Guitar Wolf strumming away, then you’re watching zombies getting their heads blown off, magical guitar plectrums being used as shurikens, UFOs flying around and a magic guitar which turns into a sword. Don’t ask me, just sit and watch it all because by the time the magical instruments start up, you’re ready to believe anything. There’s a decent amount of gore too with it being a zombie film so expect flying limbs and flesh-eating. There’s an uncanny knack of heads exploding every time someone shoots a zombie too – or human for that matter. And by exploding, I mean really blowing up. There are countless other explosions, chases and fights throughout the film too.

I’ll be honest with you, I usually have plenty to say about films and can do reviews in a reasonably cohesive manner but I’m having great difficulty with this. There’s so much wrong with the film but ironically enough, that’s what makes it so right. You don’t question anything that happens because you wouldn’t believe yourself if you were expecting something to happen and it does. Believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll!

 

It’s hard to really categorize Wild Zero because it’s not an out-and-out horror film although there are plenty of the undead about and enough blood and guts to warrant the higher rating. Director Tetsuro Takeuchi has taken in a load of cult subjects like rock ‘n’ roll, zombies and aliens and thrown them all together in the hope they will stick – and most of it does. Wild Zero has become a cult film – a new genre unto it’s self. It’s not a really great film but it’s one that I can wholly state that everyone needs to see at some point just to appreciate life a little more!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆