In a rural village outside Hong Kong, ghost-busting cop Uncle Fung (Lam Ching Ying) practices the old Taoist ways, protecting his kin from ghosts and evil spirits. When a village girl winds up a mesmerized zombie caught in the midst of a Hong Kong drugs bust, Fung heads for the city along with his sexy, wide-eyed niece (Wong Mei-Wa). His magic-assisted investigations reveal the girl was a reanimated corpse being used as a drugs mule. Partnered with sceptical Officer Lam (Wilson Lam) and his dorky sidekick (Miu Kiu-Wai), Fung follows the mystery trail to a centuries old Japanese witch (martial arts diva Michiko Nishiwaki), whose arsenal of spells prove deadly indeed.
Fifth in the Mr. Vampire series, Magic Cop weaves spooky sorcery, Taoist lore and ghost-busting antics into a police procedural plot. This works a lot better than the series previous dip into contemporary waters, the slightly muddled Mr. Vampire 2 (1986). Lam Ching Ying returns to the fold, although regular director Ricky Lau sat this one out. In his place child star-turned stunt choreographer Tung Wai takes the helm and strikes a nice balance between cop action (Fung wipes the floor with a gym full of bodybuilders) and supernatural thriller with a number of “out there” fantastical set-pieces.
Special effects are among the series’ best, full of strange, fascinating Taoist lore. Uncle Fung whips up spells to track a fleeing suspect, freeze zombies in their tracks, or sneak past surveillance cameras, and improvises demon-slaying weapons out of incense, string, jade, or those ever-popular magic mirrors. Fan-boy favourite Michiko Nishiwaki matches him hex for hex as the cat-molesting (no, seriously) demoness, her mystical presence heralded by cracked mirrors or cascading petals. As a mystery it’s rather weak, but the film is full of arresting images, including kimono clad Michiko reclining on a block of ice as she casts her spells, and insane action as when Fung has to jam his colleagues heads in the fridge or else they’ll explode!
Typically for this series, the plot spins on a culture clash between the old world and new. Fung is as befuddled by computers, faxes and electronic alarms as Lam is by spells and incantations. Interestingly, the old guy takes a more respectful view of women in the workplace than the bum-slapping city slicker. Fung and his niece are forced to move into Lam’s ridiculously trendy, late-Eighties bachelor pad (complete with avant-garde furnishings and a huge mural of the Union Jack). Flirtatious glances are exchanged between virginal niece and womanizing copper, leaving Fung none too happy. An American movie might have had Fung tutor the wisecracking cynic. Here, it is the comedy sidekick who proves more helpful and open-minded, while Lam persists being an arrogant clod almost to the very end.
Wu Ma cameos as the chief of police who, in a neat joke, knows something supernatural is afoot because his old buddy Lam Ching Ying is on the case. Tung Wai pulls out all the stops for the finale with Fung and the slinky ninja-outfitted Michiko exchanging death rays, fireballs and flying razor rope tricks, a kung fu battle with sharkskin suited sharpie Billy Chow, and a hideous hag who stubbornly refuses to die even after being set ablaze or flung down a lift-shaft. Pleasingly, the conclusion shows Uncle Fung isn’t anti-modern when it comes to progressive attitudes, although a funny gag finds everyone mimicking his foot-stomping move, mistaking an attempt to shake sand out of his shoes for a superstitious belief. Ricky Lau returned to round the series off with New Mr. Vampire (1992).