AKA SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS / AKA GHOST FIGHTS GHOST
I don’t need much of a reason to talk about an old-school Golden Harvest classic, but one with a touch of the supernatural is a good excuse. Sometimes simply called Spooky Encounters depending which version you come across, the Western release title feels like a better fit for what’s in store. At first the plot concerns a series of mishaps which befall an everyday guy, while his employer and his wife have an affair behind his back. But soon he comes across a few ghosts and more than one reanimated corpse, as well as other kinds of ghoulish shenanigans. It’s also an example of Hong Kong ‘hopping dead’ movies in which corpses (or sometimes vampires) are revived, but they’re still stiff from rigour and have to jump around to attack. It’s weird, it’s creative and there’s nothing else quite like it.
He’s built like an elephant but moves like a monkey; Sammo Hung. While only Jackie Chan could ever get away with saying this about his old friend it’s never been more true than here. It’s a film where Sammo’s fugitive rickshaw operator ‘Bold Cheung’ leaps around after being possessed by the Monkey God in the final showdown. I’m not sure the kinds of gruesome things portrayed here ever happened in Journey to the West. Mixing both supernatural fantasy, horror, and kung fu, it’s often absurd and frequently spectacular. This is up there with his best martial arts adventures and is probably tied with Odd Couple and Eastern Condors for the top spot. Combined these make for a good trilogy of different action flavours. But here we’ll be focusing on horror themed thrills.
Flying burial urns and voodoo dolls make appearances during a movie which provides a variety of absurd chuckles. The latter comes into play when Cheung’s adulterous boss hires a magician (as you do) to get rid of him. This means that the sequence also offers some of the most intricate fight scenes. With his own arm under sinister influences he’s forced to try and stop himself hitting tea house patrons Evil Dead II style. There’s even some head over heels backflips and crockery smashing, suggesting Sam Raimi may have taken some inspiration. It’s just as impressive, and of course being a martial arts movie more gravity defying moves are added to the mix. On the other hand, in terms of actual fights, this is quite restrained. Most of them are saved until the third act but they’re worth waiting for.
Usually this would be a draw back for movies in this genre, but here it allows for the finale to be that much more exciting. They throw all kinds of spells at the hero, and after framing him for murder he goes on the run. He escapes but soon comes across more ghostly trouble. For the most part the zombies and spectres are pretty cheap looking, but it’s all lit well enough to maintain the atmosphere. The flaky grey skin is pretty neat in some shots even if it’s not ideal. However the living dead make up isn’t really the focus, and instead the witchcraft being used to control the powers of evil is a major element. The constant chanting by the villainous wizard as he uses all kinds of incantations is ridiculous. It sounds nothing like a real language and keeps silly tone going.
Silly but sinister is probably a good description. His ritual black magic does include a few ingredients which the squeamish won’t enjoy as chicken blood is drawn (on camera). It’s part of a plan to make the occupant of an unburied coffin kill Cheung. He’s been locked in the tomb after losing a bet, we’ve all been there. Using raw chicken eggs to fight the monster? That’s something new. Luckily he meets a new acquaintance, a more morally upstanding wizard, who decides to help by interfering in the scheme. However even his tricks use some odd ingredients like dog’s blood (off camera). These inclusions are brief but the culture shock is still very real. But if you’re here to be spooked out I guess that’s part of the experience.
The same thing could be said of the very last scene where Cheung’s cheating wife tries to lie her way out of the aftermath, only to be drop-kicked by him after he seems to believe her. The standard kung-fu movie freeze frame ending will leave some viewers not knowing whether to laugh or not. Even if she probably deserves it for being complicit in ruining several lives. Ultimately these questionable inclusions are very minor in the grand scheme of things and nothing here can be ever taken entirely seriously. It was made in Hong Kong in the 1980s after all. A few dated moments are worth getting through for a big sorcery showdown as the two wizards set up towering altars. Things reach new heights, literally, as both try to attain power by being closer to the heavens.
Their use of flamethrower magic is impressive, and so are the martial arts skills on show. Using the other characters to fight for them by proxy certainly results in a novel conclusion. A variety of spirits are summoned to possess the two puppet combatants; Bold Cheung and his scheming boss. The mixture of weapon styles allows for multiple changes in the fighting moves, as well as the personalities of the characters they’re possessed by. The high pitched (and high speed) voices of the spirits they’re channelling are absurd, but so was the entire movie which proceeded this finale. This is a story where walking corpses do YMCA moves. Ghosts explode after being hit with light from magic mirrors. Did I mention the egg scene? If you need a mixture of hair raising stunts, Eastern folklore and bizarre characters then look no further.
Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-Ray Release on 21st June 2021, as reviewed by Dr Lenera.
Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]
Limited Edition reversible poster featuring the film’s original HK artwork [2000 copies]
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a brand new 2K restoration [worldwide debut of this restoration on home video]
My praising of these High Definition restorations is probably getting boring. This one is a little less vibrant than the previous two or three Hong Kong releases from Eureka Entertainment, but the image is very sharp [allowing you to see some wires that weren’t previously visible], the level of grain is just right and very even, and the several black-dominated moments have no crush. Hugely impressive – but then this has become the norm with these releases.
Original Theatrical Cantonese mono audio
This film was made around the time when the English dubs started to lose their flavour, so from here on I tend to opt for Cantonese [or Mandarin if necessary], even though we’re still not hearing the actor’s actual voices. Listen out for the voice of the guy who dubbed Jackie Chan for ages!
Remixed Cantonese mono audio
While I watched the majority of the film with the Theatrical Cantonese track, I did sometimes switch over to the others and try to do some comparing. This one was done for the video release, and actually sounds better to my eyes. Granted, I don’t have a major home system, but there seemed to be a greater dynamic range.
Classic English mono dub
Despite what I said earlier, the English dub – well, at least this one – is really quite good and has a fairly diverse range of voices and reasonable voice acting.
Alternate English dub, DTS-HD MA 51
By contrast, this dub is very poor. Not only is the voice work bland and stiff [think Toho-produced Showa Godzilla dubs], but the track is considerably quieter and has some odd background noise, though I’m guessing that on a more elaborate system it might sound a lot better.
Optional English Subtitles [newly translated for this release]
Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng [NY Asian Film Festival]
As usual that naughty boy Bey Logan’s commentary on the Hong Kong Legends DVD hasn’t been ported over, but never mind, the ever-busy Djeng was on hand and here delivers one of his densest tracks, despite there probably not being much production info around. One thing I especially appreciate is when he describes jokes [even some sexual innuendo such as the Cantonese words for “shoe” and “vagina” sounding almost the same!] and references that only Cantonese-speaking people would know; like Mr Vampire, this film was obviously far funnier in Cantonese. We’re also told of how horror was generally unpopular in Hong Kong so it always had to be interspersed with humour, that the reason for the longer-than-usual dialogue scenes was because Hung’s co-screenwriter Huang Ying was an experienced novelist, and have a location pointed out which was also used in one of the great masterpieces of martial arts cinema. Djeng never gets too dry though sometimes seemed to struggle with all the stuff he crams into this one, and as usual he doesn’t feel the need to go through somebody’s entire credits when he identifies people. Great stuff.
Archival interview with Sammo Hung [12 mins]
The Hong Kong Legends also contained a featurette on that particular restoration, plus an animated biography of Hung. We don’t get those here, and they aren’t necessary. We do have yet another Hung interview, though this one has him go into his childhood in more detail than usual; he was always fighting as a young kid and the Peking Opera school was suggested to him so he could learn something – though after a week he regretted it as his teacher was so harsh. He also mentions getting into the film business and stunt doubling for King Hu who didn’t mind that he was considerably wider in girth than the people he was doubling. He doesn’t even mention Encounters Of The Spooky Kind though, which is a let down, though he’s never seemed that keen on talking about his old work.
Alternate English opening & closing credits
Original Hong Kong trailer
US home video trailer
Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]
While not one of their more packed releases, Eureka have still done this quintessential, groundbreaking blending of horror, comedy and martial arts proud. Highly Recommended!