Encounter of the Spooky Kind, 1980
Directed by Sammo Hung.
Starring Sammo Hung, Fat Chung, Lung Chan, Ha Huang and Billy Chan.
A man whose wife is cheating on him with his boss has to defend himself against a wizard’s attack to get rid of him.
If creepy encounters with the supernatural and high-octane kung-fu are your bag then Eureka Entertainment have something very special indeed for your delectation. In a year that has seen the label put out some rather splendid Blu-ray editions of Hong Kong favourites such as Mr. Vampire and One-Armed Boxer, Eureka have dug deep once again and pulled out another gem that could possibly be the wildest one yet.
The legendary Sammo Hung (Game of Death/Enter the Fat Dragon) directs and stars in this madcap adventure as Bold (sometimes known as Fat) Cheung, a brave but somewhat bumbling man whose wife doesn’t seem to like him very much, so much so that she is having an affair with his boss, Master Tam (Ha Huang). Tam hires Taoist wizard Chin Hoi (Lung Chan) to dispose of Bold Cheung but Hoi’s younger apprentice Tsui (Fat Chung) is appalled and goes to help Bold Cheung combat the various creatures that Chin Hoi summons to destroy him, resulting in Tsui teaching Cheung the other-worldly skills he will need to fight off the demons and have his revenge.
Not to be taken seriously one bit, Encounter of the Spooky Kind – a title designed to cash in on Steven Spielberg’s cosmic hit from a couple of years before, despite it having nothing in common thematically or stylistically – sets up its ghostly universe in a strange way by having Bold Cheung’s friends wind him up with a prank that somehow manages to invoke a real haunting. Whilst it is acted and directed well the scene plays no other purpose in the movie other than to prove that Cheung is the bravest guy in the town, because his name didn’t tell you that already.
Once you get past the 1970s sex comedy plot device of Cheung’s wife having an indiscretion with Master Tam and Cheung breaking down the door as Tam escapes through a window like a Hong Kong version of Robin Askwith, the movie goes full-on slapstick as Cheung does battle with a hopping Jiangshi vampire in one of the best scenes of the movie before he is accused of the murder of his wife and the local authorities start to close in. Unfortunately, the only witness who can clear Cheung’s name had a stroke a mere moments before the police showed up – don’t you just hate it when that happens…
Naturally, the comedy element is turned right up to eleven and the so-called horror parts are about as scary as an episode of Scooby-Doo, which is very apt as the over-the-top action and gnarly make-up effects are taken straight out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, only re-enacted by real people. Sammo Hung is brilliant to watch as the hapless Bold Cheung, his facial expressions and reactions suitably exaggerated but when he goes full Jackie Chan he leaps around and uses his environment to fight the goons trying to capture him in a way that defies what a character whose nickname is Fat should be able to do. The biggest action highlight is a scene where Cheung takes on the approaching goons by using a small wooden bench as a weapon and a shield, and Sammo Hung is genuinely amazing to watch as he flips, blocks and smashes like a character in a video game, finishing with a slapstick gag that is a little naff but well deserved and certain to raise a chuckle.
As with most of these supernatural kung-fu comedies Encounter of the Spooky Kind is unlikely to be appreciated by a critical audience looking for plot, acting and realism but as an entry into Hong Kong cinema it is perfect, being action-packed and immediately accessible. Also, as with most Hong Kong movies, it does run a little too long at 103 minutes and could easily be trimmed – that opening prank scene could easily be removed or at least edited down – to keep the pace going but once it all kicks off it does so in such a gloriously fun and exciting way that it barely pauses for breath until the end, which is when we get possibly the greatest ending to any movie ever (but you’ll have to watch it to find out what it is).
Coming backed with an audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng, an archive interview with Sammo Hung, alternate opening and closing credits, trailers, collector’s booklet and alternate artwork, this 2K restoration looks crisp for the most part, with the odd lapse into out-of-focus shots during some of the quick edits but that comes with the territory with Hong Kong cinema from this period and just adds to the shoddy charm.
And charm is what Encounter of the Spooky Kind has in droves, mainly thanks to Sammo Hung being so immensely likeable and talented in front of a camera but also down to just being so entertaining. Not for everyone, as is the case with many of these movies, but if you delve into supernatural martial arts comedies from Hong Kong only the once then this is probably the best one to do it with and who knows? You may just wish to delve further afterwards.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★