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  Return of the Demon Let Sleeping Demons Lie
Year: 1987
Director: Wong Ying
Stars: Robert Mak, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Shing Fui-On, Emily Chu, Nat Chan Pak-Cheung, Dick Wei, Wu Ma, Chui Sau-Lai, To Siu-Ming
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Only a person born in the 'Hoi' year, month and day can unearth the treasure hidden in the hands of a giant stone Buddha. Scowling reprobate Fierce (Shing Fui-On) aims to be that man, aided by his cute kung fu kicking sister Panther (Chui Sau-Lai) and cross-eyed thief/comedy sidekick Lockpick (To Siu-Ming, whose cross-eyed schtick graced countless kung fu movies). But the gang discover the prophecy is an evil trick so a soul-sucking superhuman sorcerer (Dick Wei) can escape his ancient tomb. Luckily for the goofy gangsters, kung fu ghost-buster Mak (Robert Mak) arrives with his Taoist sifu (Charlie Cho Cha-Lee). They save their lives and enlist their reluctant aid to stop the demon achieving immortality. In attempting to do so our luckless heroes end up framed for murder, hunted by crazy police inspector Wai (Nat Chan Pak-Cheung) who thinks he is martial arts hero Wong Fei Hung (of Once Upon a Time in China (1991) fame, jailed with a werewolf, attacked by zombies and trapped inside a haunted house. And that's all before they face the scary sorcerer in his freaky underground lair.

Screenwriter Wong Ying (not to be confused with schlock mogul extraordinaire Wong Jing) was a significant creative force during the Hong Kong horror boom of the Eighties and early Nineties. He co-wrote such Cantonese creepshow classics as Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980), Mr. Vampire (1985) and Kung Fu Zombie (1981). Prior to then he also had an extraordinary run scripting wu xia fantasies at Shaw Brothers many of which had a supernatural tone: e.g. Bat Without Wings (1980), Portrait in Crystal (1983), The Enchantress (1984), Roving Swordsman (1983). Although Wong's first film (of only three) as a director was the drama Untouchable Yours (1985), he likely thought he could direct a horror comedy as well as anyone else.

Hence Return of the Demon comes across like a parody of the sort of frantic genre fare Wong usually penned for other directors. As if to underline the bawdy irreverent tone he cast Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, an actor more often typecast as a comical sleaze-ball in films like Police Story (1985), Wizard's Curse (1992) or Pretty Woman (1991), in the stock genre role of wise Taoist master. A part more often played by co-star Wu Ma who briefly cameos as a crazy veterinarian first glimpsed collecting urine from a nonplussed Alsatian dog in graphic close-up! He tricks the cast into quaffing a cup of dog piss but makes an early exit with an icepick in his head. Charlie Cho acquits himself fairly well as an occultist know-it-all but plays it strictly for laughs. At various points he swaps minds with a dog, falls face first onto a pile of eggs and transforms into a snarling werewolf in a showstopping scene staged exactly like the famous sequence in An American Werewolf in London (1981) though the end result is closer to Paul Naschy a.k.a. Jacinto Molina in Curse of the Devil (1973).

Disregarding such niceties as plot coherence and character development, Return of the Demon flings the clueless viewer into an insane stew of oddball occult lore and lowbrow comedy. Affable former Shaw Brothers star Robert Mak handles the action. Although a staple of action-comedies at the Shaw studio, Mak's enduring claim to fame is being the winner of Hong Kong's first ever disco dancing championship. Nicknamed 'Dance King' thereafter he cemented his reputation as Hong Kong's John Travolta with the Shaw Brothers comedy Disco Bumpkins (1980). As recently as 2002 Robert Mak portrayed a character named 'Dance King' on a popular television soap opera. Away from Mak's athleticism, the cinematography in Return of the Demon apes the then-popular blue-hued HK New Wave style. Wong Ying pulls off a few grisly sequences including a scene where the heroes crawl through an underground maze where zombies leap out from every corner worthy of a Lucio Fulci fright-fest. Yet the film is ninety percent wacky detours with only ten percent plot.

Remember those moments in Scooby-Doo when Shaggy and Scooby would break off from ghost-hunting to indulge in some comic schtick? This is mostly all that only the humour has an alarmingly sadistic edge. Among the dubious comedy moments is a scene where Inspector Wai is so incensed by Panther's attempt to seduce him he beats her senseless! Turns out since Wai's wife ran out on him he has a pathological hatred of women. Hilarious, right? How about the remarkably brutal lynching scene with Fierce and Mak tethered on either end of a weighted rope? Few other Hong Kong horror comedies are as relentless in abusing their heroes or as casual about killing off characters. More successful is the charming haunted house sequence where the gang meet Tayona (Emily Chu), the ghost of a half-French aristocrat dressed in an elegant satin gown and who wields awesome powers. Having died un-married since no man could stomach her 'westernized ways' she must seduce a male virgin in order to be reincarnated. In a subplot too obviously lifted from Mr. Vampire, though sadly curtailed before the frenetic finale, Tayona sets her sights on Cho's saintly sifu who proves decidedly unenthusiastic. Remarkable how many of these films mine tension from heroes driven to avoid sex with beautiful women.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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