At a party celebrating a spectacular newly-built skyscraper in Hong Kong (which never goes well, just ask the cast of Calamity of Snakes (1983)), sultry Judy Hsu (Chui Suk-Woon) is snatched from the ladies' toilets into another dimension. Possessed by ghosts, she returns to Earth on the orders of the evil Ghost King to lure haplessly horny mortal men to their gory deaths. Few more hapless than Chu (Wong Jing), a chubby schlub out to impress his knockout girlfriend Hsueh (Joey Wang), who joins the security team at the building where his affable if lecherous uncle Fan (Stanley Fung) is chief guard. When Chu sees Judy trap a bunch of people in a possessed television set with ghostly help, Hsueh takes him to glamorous lady exorcist Ling (Joyce Godenzi, wife of Sammo Hung) who assembles an arsenal of spells to battle the ghost snatchers.
Infamous schlock writer, producer and director Wong Jing takes a rare lead acting role in The Ghost Snatchers, a seminal Hong Kong horror-comedy from the Eighties when that genre was all the rage. Remarkably for a Hong Kong fright farce the film is actually based on a true story! In the Seventies the Hong Kong Department of Public Works main building was supposedly haunted by the ghosts of Japanese soldiers from World War Two. Civil servants refused to work overtime until an actual geomancer was called in to perform an exorcism. Wong Jing is also credited as 'planner' but The Ghost Snatchers was directed by the much underrated Nam Nai Choi, among the most skillful creators of fantasy, horror and effects films in this era. Best known for cult kung fu splatter-fest The Story of Ricky (1992) Nam began his career at Shaw Brothers where he moved from cinematography to directing gritty crime thrillers like Men from the Gutter (1983) then truly came into his own with outlandish supernatural fare: The Seventh Curse (1987), Peacock King (1988) and the insane genre mash-up The Cat (1992). After that astonishing run Nam sadly disappeared.
The opening sequence alone showcases Nam's mastery of supernatural suspense sequences as he interweaves awesome old school optical effects, distorted lenses, coloured gels and bravura camera-work to convey a sense of the otherworldly invading the rational realm. Zombie hands burst through a wall to grab Miss Hsu in a nod to Day of the Dead (1985) which is only the first in a succession of cheeky homage-cum-rip-offs from a selection of seminal horror films: a sexy aerobics instructor pulls a horny idiot through a haunted TV a la Videodrome (1982) (the television also sprouts legs to chase Chu round the room), a cinema fills full of zombies just like in Messiah of Evil (1973) (although here the undead generously share their popcorn), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) style dream sequence has Hsueh pulled into a pastel pink-and-blue afterlife where her dead brother's ghost (Michael Chan Wai-Man) gets squished by the giant hand of the Ghost King, a fight with a reanimated skeleton modelled on The Terminator (1984) before a climax with an exploding head gag lifted from Scanners (1981). It is worth noting the film's magpie approach extend to a gag 'inspired' by a scene in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) where Fan laughs himself silly at a funeral while mourners mistake his mirth for inconsolable grief.
One should not overlook the script input from Nam's frequent collaborator, Leung Hung-Wah. A prolific actor and writer, he later turned director with action films, dramas and thrillers but most notably horror films including Wicked Ghost (1999), a Hong Kong rip-off of The Ring (1998), The Dark Side of My Mind (2003) and Demoniac Flash (2005). Alongside silly slapstick and predictably puerile jokes about AIDS, The Ghost Snatchers boasts a fair few genuinely witty gags both verbal and visual as well as some intriguing insights into traditional Taoist lore. The ghosts in a skyscraper premise anticipates Poltergeist III (1988) although likely influenced by Ghostbusters (1984). Even so the film takes an interesting route, opening the eyes of its cynical city-dwelling heroes to old world beliefs. By making the Taoist ghost buster a thoroughly modern, attractive young woman who runs her exorcism service from a plush high-rise office just like any other business, the film proves more progressive than the Mr. Vampire sequels, reconciling tradition with modernity. That the ghosts turn out to be the restless spirits of a Japanese combat unit from World War Two injects a faintly xenophobic though still interesting subtext possibly alluding to Japan's then-economic domination of Asia. In fact even the AIDs analogies work as Fan's eagerness to get laid almost gets him killed. Along with the evocative sets and sumptuous lighting in the otherworldly realm, the gore effects and zombie shocks prove quite unnerving. Not often the most subtle or even likeable comic performer, Wong Jing is fairly engaging here as a sympathetic oaf though how he scored a hot girlfriend like Joey Wong, a year away from super-stardom with A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), is a bigger mystery than what lurks within the ghost dimension.