Magic is a shaggy Old English Sheepdog beloved by his owner Kathy (Kris Aquino) yet loathed by her boyfriend Jack (Roger Kwok Chun-On), who would rather she showered such affection on him. When air-hostess Kathy jets off on another trip, she leaves Magic alone with Jack who has the poor dog neutered, throws a wild party trashing her house, then gets snapped snogging her flirty neighbour. Fleeing into the night, Magic arrives at a Buddhist temple where he stops a fire from destroying a statue. The statue comes to life as none other than Scholar Pik (Raymond Wong), a.k.a. the Happy Ghost. Out of gratitude he grants the lovable mutt his heart’s desire: to become a human being (also played by Wong) for forty-nine days. After a disastrous stint as a convenience store employee, where Scholar Pik’s magic powers help foil a robbery, Magic meets Kathy again when he tackles a purse-snatcher. Not realising her new friend was her dog, Kathy kindly lands Magic a job at a pet store where his ability to talk with dogs brings him success. But when Kathy dumps Jack upon finding that photo, Magic tries to woo her despite Scholar Pik warning him that dogs and humans cannot fall in love.
Yes, this is indeed a tale of unrequited love between a girl and her dog. The fifth film in the popular Hong Kong children’s comedy series has the strangest plot of any Happy Ghost movie, vaguely reminiscent of the equally odd Oh Heavenly Dog (1980) starring Chevy Chase, Jane Seymour and canine icon Benji. In Asia however, Happy Ghost V is considered less notable for its quasi-bestial premise than its leading lady. The series was known for showcasing starlets who often went on to bigger and better things. Here it’s more a case of novelty casting, as we have Kris Aquino, daughter of Corazon Aquino who famously ousted Ferdinand Marcos to become president of the Philippines. Evidently Ms. Aquino was quite popular given she was the first to share equal billing with star/producer/screenwriter/co-director Raymond Wong, whilst the end credits spotlight the media frenzy that greeted her arrival in Hong Kong. As an actress, Aquino doesn’t do much besides smile prettily. Fans of the series will likely bemoan the absense of past regulars Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying, Loletta Lee, Charine Chan Ka-Ling and May Lo Mei-Mei who were collectively far more personable. Cuddly canine star Josh easily outshines his human co-stars with a remarkably expressive performance.
This was the first series entry scripted solely by comedian Wong, which might be why the plot is virtually non-existent and subservient to a string of slapstick set-pieces. Some of these are fairly amusing as Wong performs all the familiar dog-in-a-man’s-body gags. When told to “sit” he crouches on all fours, tries to pee against a lamp-post, chews Kathy’s slippers, sleeps in a basket, etc. All pretty juvenile but then, this is a children’s film after all. The special effects are more subdued than those in the ambitious Happy Ghost III (1986) and Happy Ghost IV (1990), but often effective and benefit from the frenetic camerawork of cinematographer Wong Po Man. He combines the series trademark cartoon pastel colours with instances of roving doggy-cam that depict the human characters, save Kathy, as obnoxious grotesques. There is a mild message of how human beings undervalue the unconditional love of dogs, but for the most part watching lovelorn Magic become a hapless pawn in a romantic tug-of-war between Kathy and Jack proves less than engaging. Attempts to paint Jack in a sympathetic light fail largely because his actions are anything but. The ending is unexpectedly downbeat and the coda unlikely to sate younger dog lovers. This was the last Happy Ghost movie for twenty years until Raymond Wong revived the series with the effects-laden Magic to Win (2011).