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 as well as being the progenitor of the popular jiangshi film genre, 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 which is unlike anything seen in the West at the time of release.
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 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. A lot of this genre followed the same traits, almost as if the narratives were built up around set pieces first with the flimsiest of story added around them to link together.
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!
Encounter of the Spooky Kind
Director(s): Sammo Kam-Bo Hung
Writer(s): Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Ying Wong
Actor(s): Sammo Hung, Paul Chung Fat Wu Ma, Lam Ching-Ying, Peter Chan Lung, To Siu-Ming, Huang Ha, Leung Suet-Mei
Duration: 102 mins