Director: Wu Ma
Writer: Sammo Hung, Barry Wong
Cast: Sammo Hung Kam-bo, Lam Ching-ying, Cherie Chung, Fat Chung, Ricky Lau, Wu Ma, Peter Chan Lung, Billy Chan Wui Ngai, Chin Yuet Sang, Kwan Yung Moon
Running Time: 94 min.
Another supernatural comedy from Sammo Hung, star and director of Encounters of the Spooky Kind (God, how I hate that title) and its sequel (which is available neither on DVD nor VCD…bloody hell) as well as producer of the Mr. Vampire films. This time, he’s an average joe whose uncle (Lam Ching-ying, R.I.P.) is a Taoist priest with two assistants who have the ugliest hair styles you’ve ever seen. It takes place in 1885…better than the present day, but still a little too recently, in my opinion, to invoke the good sense of mystique it requires to make up for its shortcomings. Sammo’s character has the unflattering and even more unimaginative nickname of “Fatboy.”
The storyline, in all its dubious glory: Fatboy’s friend Lucho (Wu Ma, who is supposed to be 34 but looks MUCH older) dies an inexplicable death. Even more inexplicable: though Lucho was impotent, his widow Jade is 8 months pregnant. She returns to Lucho’s and Fatboy’s home town with his body and her brother for the funeral, to be conducted by Fatboy’s uncle. However, it is revealed to us (early on, so this isn’t much of a spoiler) that Lucho is neither dead nor married to Jade. The man posing as her brother is her real husband, and also a greedy sorcerer. For what nefarious purpose is Lucho faking his own death? I could tell you, but you wouldn’t thank me. It’s pretty lame anyway.
Although Wu Ma directed this film, much of it has Sammo’s fingerprints all over it, mostly in the form of marginally funny jokes that get hammered so far into the ground they pop out on the other side of the world. Fatboy stuck inside a brothel with an overdose of some aphrodisiac or other coursing through his…uh, system, trying NOT to get aroused is good for a laugh or two, but other situations, like him arguing with a ghost that only he can see for about a half hour while passersby look at him like he’s insane…well, they ain’t.
Sammo’s oddball pacing is evident here, too. There are a couple of fight scenes, both fairly short, in the middle of the film (why these required FOUR choreographers…Sammo, Lam Ching-ying, Billy Chan, and Yuen Biao, credited as “Bill Yuen”…is a mystery), and the primary conflict is resolved (in rather incomplete fashion) much too soon. From there, the movie goes into a whole new subplot about Yuen, Fatboy’s arranged bride-to-be, trying to save his soul from ghost guards who look like fish-men out of an H.P. Lovecraft story. This creates a false climax way too early and makes the last 15 or 20 minutes feel almost like a completely different movie. Bad move, people.
Try as it might, The Dead and the Deadly just can’t compete with the more well-known films in the genre. If fun factor were used as a measure of fighting ability and these supernatural comedies duked it out, then Encounters of the Spooky Kind would win hands down, and, quite frankly, the almighty Mr. Vampire would make this movie its bitch in a matter of seconds. A disappointing film in spite of the considerable talent involved.
Numskull’s Rating: 4/10