Friday, September 5, 2014

"The Fake Ghost Catchers" (1982) d/ Liu Chia Yung

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Tonight's review, a supernatural kung fu comedy from director Liu Chia Yung starring the likes of Hsiao Ho, Chang Chan Peng, and Fu Sheng, has only been on my "to see" list for the past thirty years, having been unable to score a copy anywhere until the glorious advent of all region dvd players finally made it and many other Shaw Brothers films accessible to long time Western enthusiasts like myself. As one would expect, this is a weird and wild ride, packed with cereal-faced zombies, hopping ghosts, spiritual posession, lazy eyes, foot moles, broad physical slapstick comedy, lo-fi special effects, and Chinese mysticism that pre-dates Ivan Reitman's own Ghostbusters by nearly two years, or, in other words, a must-see for any self-respecting fan of martial horror-comedy. Still not convinced? What if we threw in Wang Lung Wei in a friggin' eye patch? Yeah, thought that'd do the trick...

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Fu Sheng, at his dramatic finest, as you can clearly see here.
After a man (Lung Tien Chiang) commits suicide with poison over his unrequited love for a beautiful young newlywed (Lily Li), his spirit returns from the afterlife during a bungled grave robbing by a group of starving bumpkins, who are interrupted by a wounded whistleblower (Chang Chan Peng) fleeing the armed henchmen of a corrupt Qing official (Wang Lung Wei) known as "the one-eyed general", who's trying to kill him before he can transport evidence of his treachery to a nearby judge. The vengeful ghost kills the young woman, whose ghost enlists the services of a phony Taoist magician's young assistant (Hsiao Ho), who happens to be the whistleblower's cousin, leading him to also unwittingly involve himself in the deceased woman/ghost's plan to foil her ethereal murderer before he can give her twin sister (also Lily Li, of course) a similar fate. The titular fake ghost catchers bring in an extravagantly garbed and perpetually unlucky opera performer  with nine lucky moles on his foot(Fu Sheng) and carry along the female ghost in a paper spell inside an umbrella for the ride. Nope, not a typo.

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"Let's see Linda Blair pull some shit like this off!"
The actor only agrees to help the young men if the female ghost will help him to be more successful at gambling, leading to expectedly ludicrous results at the local gambling house with a lazy-eyed casino owner (Tu Shao Ming), who even has a lazy-eyed mistress. Meanwhile, the plotting, murderous general only has one eye. You with me, so far? One eye captures the whistleblower and tortures him for the whereabouts of the secret list, but the woman's ghost possesses him, making him impervious to blows, weapons, and even flaming sticks of incense, which he chews menacingly (!) before escaping the general's clutches. At the climax, a trap is set at an abandoned house by the judge and the ghost catchers who defeat and arrest the general and his men when Li's ghost again possesses Peng, who subdues One eye while fighting like a Shaolin wooden marionette. Fu Sheng poses in ornate traditional marriage drag as Li's twin sister afterwards, as part of the set up for Lung's ghost, who naturally isn't about to give up hauntings and murders without a knock down, drag out fight to the finish, complete with wire work, lighting fx, cheap horror masks and makeup, and a goodly dose of gung fu magic, luckily for all of us watching from our seats. See for yourselves.

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...and Johnny Wang as the evil One-Eyed General. Joke pretty much wrote itself.
1982 was a busy year for Fu Sheng, who showed up in My Rebellious Son, Cat vs. Rat, and The Brave Archer and his Mate all in the same year as this effort, and his appearance here is mostly in a supporting comedic role, with few fights to mention, but he's freaking hilarious throughout the damned thing, so we'll let that slide this time. On the other hand, the acrobatic Hsiao Ho, who never really received the spotlight he truly deserved, is excellent here, and Sheng's younger brother, Chang Chan Peng, who retired from acting altogether after completing Wang Lung Wei's This Man is Dangerous in 1985, has some equally impressive fight scenes, and it can be argued that his possessed wooden man routine vs. Wang here, rivals or even bests his brother's similar sequence (on a physical level if not a comedic one) in Liu Chia Liang's Legendary Weapons of China,  which was also released in 1982, coincidentally. A good time to be had, for sure, and three Wops on the scale. See it now!

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(Not very)Special make up tip # 7783: Apparently, ghosts like their Cream of Wheat with strawberry preserves mixed in. 
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