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  Ghosts Galore A-Haunting We Will Go
Year: 1983
Director: Hsu Hsia
Stars: Chin Siu Ho, Chiang Kam, Lo Lieh, Yeung Jing-Jing, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Booi Yue-Fa, Hwang Jang-Lee, Chu Ko, Hung San-Nam, Yiu Man-Gei, Yeung Wah, Yuen Fai, Lau Yat-Fan
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rascally rogues Lu Xing (Chin Siu Ho, future star of Mr. Vampire (1985)) and Fat Chicken (Chiang Kam) pose as Taoist priests to con a host of gullible folks out of their money but reckon without righteous sorcerer Lin Ching Yan (the great Lo Lieh). Later the boys bungle an exorcism incurring the playful wrath of a lovelorn lady ghost (Booi Yue-Fa). When Master Lin saves their lives with his spell-slinging skills, a chastened Lu Xing becomes his student although Fat Chicken opts out on learning he has to give up sex. Fat Chicken's frantic attempts to get laid result in a reunion with the ghost girl before an unfortunate turn of events. Meanwhile Lu Xing heroically rescues beautiful Junko (Yeung Jing-Jing), a Japanese ninja girl who renounced her evil clan and is now on the run from black magic master of disguise Okada (Lung Tien-Hsiang) and a samurai hit-squad terrorizing peasants across the land. To see justice done Lu Xing cajoles Master Lin into a supernatural showdown with an incredibly powerful Japanese magician (Korean Tae Kwon Do legend Hwang Jang-Lee).

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) established Hong Kong cinema's most definitive brand of horror with the knockabout supernatural kung fu comedy and Sammo Hung as its foremost auteur. While Hung went on to produce, star or direct seminal genre films like the Mr. Vampire series and The Dead and the Deadly (1983) other great talents followed in his footsteps: Yuen Woo-Ping, Ann Hui, Ronny Yu, and Tsui Hark all dabbled extensively in the ghost-busting genre. Even chop-socky veteran Chang Cheh got in on the act with Attack of the Joyful Goddess (1983). The result was a golden age for Chinese supernatural shenanigans. Produced by Shaw Brothers, who were behind most of the best entries in the original gross-out cycle in HK horror where versatile Lo Lieh more often played slimy bad guys (e.g. Black Magic Part 2: Revenge of the Zombies (1976), Human Skin Lanterns (1982)), Ghosts Galore ranks among the top tier kung fu ghost comedies.

Right from the opening credits, a surreal fusion of Kwaidan (1964) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) wherein Lin Ching Yan conjures tiny versions of Lu Xing and Fat Chicken out of a cup of tea to battle blue and purple sword-wielding demons, the film charms with its eccentric atmosphere. Hsu Hsia had earlier made The Kid from Kwangtung (1982) for the Shaw studio, a slapstick fu favourite lauded for its amazing action choreography. Here his intricate action scenes are no less fast-paced and furiously inventive pitting Chinese magic against Ninja trickery. Hsia makes fine use of the fight skills of Chin Siu Ho (who wields a cool multi-form weapon made of gold coins in a standout scene that plays like the kung fu version of Donald O'Connor's 'Make 'Em Laugh' routine in Singin' in the Rain (1952)) and lovely Yeung Jing-Jing (a gravity-defying battle where she spider-walks across the ceiling). The latter, who cracks skulls as deftly as she breaks hearts with her killer good looks, went on to be one of the top female fight choreographers in Hong Kong cinema. The slapstick humour is undeniably broad yet has an infectious energy. Hsia melds physical comedy with a lot of witty wordplay to turn traditional Chinese proverbs inside-out.

Ghosts Galore tells a deceptively familiar story: sagely sifu steers young rascal off the selfish path towards a more altruistic life. However, not only does the irreverent attitude keep the moral message from getting too preachy but on closer inspection the film is disarmingly subversive. Destiny is its central theme. While Lin Ching Yan believes destiny cannot be altered, Lu Xian refuses to stand idle in the face of an injustice. At first righteous Master Lin refuses to help Junko because she is Japanese. Scoffing at a sub-Confucian proverb ("You should only sweep away the snow at your own door and not bother about the frost on your neighbour's roof"), the reckless youngster reminds the wise elder of their duty to help those in need. The film grows more delirious with each plot twist, including a shock death and return from the grave ("Don't be sad, sometimes it's good to be a ghost"), reaching a psychedelic high point when laughing Lu Xian splits into multiple double-exposed duplicates to outfox an enemy and an amazing finale that attempts to outdo Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Here dueling master magicians pit paper cranes against a ghost army, supernatural flames against green water and paper dolls that become Chinese opera heroes before the cosmic arrival of Buddha himself (see also: A Chinese Tall Story (2005)) and the smiling, jarringly full-frontal nude little Peach Boy (see also: Child of Peach (1987)).

The film also has hints of eroticism as Booi Yue-Fa's comely ghost girl (naked beneath a transparent silk dress) saps the life-force from a not-entirely-unwilling scholar via mind-blowing supernatural sex, just like Joey Wong in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), and a memorable scene where our horny heroes gawp at a paper ghost made of pornographic pictures. Especially engaging are the handmade special effects, pulled off in a mixture of traditional puppetry, ingenious editing, martial arts sleight of hand and other charming old school tricks. The result, like all the best HK fantasies of this era, is a colourful Asian comic book on screen.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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