Film Review: Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) 鬼打鬼 - The Born of Martial Arts Comedy Horror Film

Updated: Aug 3

#FilmReview #EncountersoftheSpookyKind #影評 #鬼打鬼

FILE PHOTO: A Poster of ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND (1980).  ©Orange Sky Golden Harvest
FILE PHOTO: A Poster of ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND (1980). ©Orange Sky Golden Harvest

Hong Kong Film and Taiwan Film Industry Comparison


Before write about this film, I have to analyse the general tendencies of Hong Kong filmmaking first in comparison to Taiwan filmmaking. For live action drama films, the annual rate of film production of Taiwan is 33 films (if it includes feature length cartoons and documentaries, the total is 56 films) for 883 theatres made in 2018; Hong Kong made 53 films for 55 theatres in both 2017 and 2018.


Note: HK made 49 films in 2019; 34 films in 2020. TW made 71 films in 2020? The gap among film screenings in TW is huge and a decisive factor.


READ MORE:

2020 年香港電影市道整體情況

每週票房公告


Apparently, the average HK's film production rate is almost 1:1 to the total number of theatres. Although HK's film productivity is higher than TW, both regions obviously are suffering from stagnation. Stagnation is the general tendency. Some petty KMT film editor Liao said that Taiwan film production is increasing gradually about ten years ago however comparison between 27 films (2008) and 33 films (2018) are totally meaningless. I myself had been in Taiwan to study both Mandarin and filmmaking during 2005 to 2011 (36 titles made at that year; and there were about 4 thousand film workers including theatres, office workers; Hong Kong film workers were about 7 thousands including theatres and office workers).


Undeniably, their economic situation (TW) is only getting worse. The stagnation has been maintained for more than 14 years since 2005. The average rate 30 titles per year is maintained. It indicates that one or two box office successes (above 500 million NTD) cannot change the general tendency. This is what Taiwanese critics must learn.


Indeed, it proved that the protectionist KMT circle-oriented subsidisation cannot create the vital industry of any kinds. Taiwanese film ideologues aren't qualified teachers for HK at all.


Unfortunately, it's quite obvious that both regions where have been suffering from stagnation for more than twenty years are not recommended for film students. In other words, both of them are heavily dependent on subsidies and co-productions.


Bureaucratic influence on the industry, and small circle dominance of film resources are common features and illness

READ MORE:

(Taiwan Film 2018): https://mocfile.moc.gov.tw/files/201902/53e0cbe3-1e1b-4e0e-a82e-1d1bfd70a385.pdf

(Hong Kong Film 2018): http://service-industries-research.hktdc.com/business-news/article/電影及影音製作/香港影視及娛樂業概況/hkip/tc/1/1X3O8SXR/1X0018PN.htm


Indeed, the number is almost the same. About 30-50 films per year is the common feature of both Chinese regions. However it includes student and amateur works that screened at film festivals or being subsidised, rated by the state censorship. Thus, it needs further analysis to meticulously determine if it's a commercially made professional theatrical feature or just state subsidised experimental film project. For boosting the number, Taiwan systematically tends to count student films, shorts into the state statistics.


On the contrary, ''Hong Kong film industry'' includes not only films, but also video, TV, commercials and music videos in terms of the law. It also affects the result of the state statistics on industrial workers and the entire economic data collection.


1992 was the peak of the Hong Kong Film Production (F1.1)

FILE PHOTO: Chart of the Hong Kong Film Production。 ©Hong Kong Trade Development Council
FILE PHOTO: A Chart of the Hong Kong Film Production. ©Hong Kong Trade Development Council

The main difference is that the half of Hong Kong film projects are co-productions with Mainland China since 2003 Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) until the present; The Taiwanese film projects are made by KMT-related small circles with state subsidies which commissioners are their own people.


Note: DPP is just a subsidiary of KMT. And their guys are same figures in film industry. 'DPP=KMT' is a politically accurate formula, especially in its film industry. Narrative control of the society is its main aim.


In fact, CEPA is not the origin of the stagnation of Hong Kong film production. Moreover the Hong Kong government officially thinks that CEPA is fundamentally important for its survival. You see the stagnation has started before CEPA signed.


Before 1993, Hong Kong films were mainly local productions or co-productions with Taiwan, and the annual revenue was averagely one billion HKD, however 80 % of films are foreign films and it still basically makes about 1 billion HKD per year. Only about 400 million HKD per year is made by local films and co-production with Mainland China. The gap between foreign imports and local production has only been increasing since 1993. 80 % of films you see in Hong Kong are foreign imports.


Discrimination against Co-Production with Mainland China is Meaningless

Before 2002, the coproduction with Mainland China was only 15% of Hong Kong films. The Regulations on the Administration of Movies 《電影管理條例》dramatically improved the situation. The co-production films became ''local films'' since then. Furthermore, the Mainland box office of co-productions is about twenty times larger than the local films; the local box office of co-productions is also about two times larger than the local films.


As the result, co-production with Mainland China is the major film production mode of the latest Hong Kong film industry. Again, this was still earlier than CEPA got effective.


Despite its box office in the Mainland Chinese market (it hit 7.3 billion Renminbi box office record in 2017; 13% of the total box office of the entire China), the number of theatres has been only declining from 1992's 119 theatres to 2018's 58 theatres. As a result, the number of film production is almost equal with the number of theatres in 2018. One film for one theatre in one year is the fact.


Sammo Hung's Unexpected Success of Jiang Shi Action Horror Comedy

 FILE PHOTO: Center is Sammo Hung(洪金寶)©Ryota Nakanishi
FILE PHOTO: Center is Sammo Hung(洪金寶)©Ryota Nakanishi

I directly asked the director/screenwriter/leading actor Sammo Hung at the 43rd. Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 30, 2019 in front of hundreds of the audience about this film and his produced master piece Mr. Vampire (1985).


Jiang Shi was not an imitation of the Western Horror Movies. It has its actual traditional base in Chinese literature

唐僧正要念咒,行者急到馬前叫道:「師父莫念,莫念,你且來看看他的模樣。」卻是一堆粉骷髏在那裡。唐僧大驚道:「悟空,這個人才死了,怎麼就化作一堆骷髏?」行者道:「他是個潛靈作怪的僵尸,在此迷人敗本,被我打殺,他就現了本相。他那脊梁上有一行字,叫做『白骨夫人』。」 - Chapter #27 Journey To The West

How he came up with the idea of Jiang Shi? That is from tradition of Chinese culture. Jiang Shi is not just a hopping dead. It has intelligence and does black magic as a living dead. The best example in the tradition is Baigujing in the novel Journey to the West (1500s) which is to try eating the protagonist Tang Xuanzang for immortal life. It's clearly defined and mentioned as Jiang Shi. Cannibalism and the living dead were already connected in the 16th century Chinese novel before The Night of The Living Dead (1968).


FILE PHOTO: Baigujing in the novel Journey to the West (1500s).  ©Public Domain
FILE PHOTO: Baigujing in the novel Journey to the West (1500s). ©Public Domain

Some people doubted before the release of Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) that the Jiang Shi will be a disastrous failure however after the box office hit of $5,675,626 HKD, they turned their attitude toward the idea of Jiang Shi to encourage people to make more films like this one. However, this kind of opportunist attitude is what Sammo Hung hates mostly.


Sammo Hung cinematically cited the exposition from the novel. In which, Jiang Shi ambushes the protagonist. It actually talks about its intention and scheme to victimise the protagonist.


卻說常言有云:「山高必有怪,嶺峻卻生精。」果然這山上有一個妖精,孫大聖去時,驚動那怪。他在雲端裡踏著陰風,看見長老坐在地下,就不勝歡喜道:「造化,造化。幾年家人都講東土的唐和尚取大乘,他本是金蟬子化身,十世修行的原體,有人吃他一塊肉,長壽長生。真個今日到了。」那妖精上前就要拿他,只見長老左右手下有兩員大將護持,不敢攏身。他說兩員大將是誰?說是八戒、沙僧。八戒、沙僧雖沒甚麼大本事,然八戒是天蓬元帥,沙僧是捲簾大將,他的威氣尚不曾泄,故不敢攏身。妖精說:「等我且戲他戲,看怎麼說。」


- Chapter #27 Journey To The West


READ MORE:

https://zh.wikisource.org/wiki/西遊記/第027回


I have to say that Jiang Shi is more traditionally depicted in this film rather than any other films later made due to the film's box office hit. And you can find other cinematic citation from this novel. Which is the Monkey King Sun Wukong's spirit being summoned and transcend into Bold Cheung's body in the last battle sequence with antagonists.


At the end of the conversation, Sammo Hung said that ''If it works, it is ok without any excuse. Ultimately the most important thing is simplicity.''


In other words, film is not customised for every individuals as some kind of custom made costumes. The latter looks like manufactured cloth for each person. As the result, film's creative outcome and success are gambling matters. This is why marketing analysis on tendencies of both filmmaking and audience is definitely necessary for each film project.


Feminist fighters may misunderstand this film when the protagonist Bold Cheung punches and throws Cheung's wife due to her immoral affaires with his employer Master Tam. It is obvious that any sexist bias against both sex is equally undemocratic and inhumane in general. This film is about what trustworthiness is. Thus, betrayal of the employer and Cheung's wife against the employee Bold Cheung is evil; the betrayal of Priest Tsui to his senior Priest Chin Hoi on the assassination attempt which ordered by Master Tam to eliminate any possible scandalous risk from Bold Cheung is highly ethical.


A decision of characters is the nature of plotting in story-telling. Of course, this is about the moral decisions made by the protagonists, both Bold Cheung and Priest Tsui.


This film is composed by several key social relationships such as ''husband (Bold Cheung) and wife (Cheung's wife)''; ''Senior (Priest Chin Hoi) and junior (Priest Tsui) ''; ''master (Priest Tsui) and student (Bold Cheung) ''; ''employer (Bold Cheung) and employee (Master Tam). '' Others are purely additional to these key social relationships that form dramatic conflicts.


The main conflict is simple enough that Master Tam hires MaoShan Priest Chin Hoi to get rid of his employee Bold Cheung who would risk his immoral affaires with Cheung's wife.


In conclusion, this film is superior than the Mr. Vampire series (1985-1988) which produced by Sammo Hung after this film's success. The reason is that Jiang Shi is not in the main focus of this film. Instead, the human conflict is more concerned deeper than the popular film franchise. You cannot see the bad priest v the good priest conflict in the Mr. Vampire saga. I prefer the major dramatic conflict of this film between Senior (Priest Chin Hoi) and junior (Priest Tsui).


Jiang Shi like zombies in George A. Romero's works, they are just narrative devices in this amazing film, the core of drama is still a human conflict.


I'm sure that Sammo Hung prefers this film rather than Mr. Vampire trilogy (1985-1988). A good genre film creates a new kind of film genre.


FILE PHOTO: Sammo Hung signed on my DVD cover of The Variant Ones (1975)  ©Ryota Nakanishi
FILE PHOTO: Sammo Hung signed on my DVD cover of The Variant Ones (1975) ©Ryota Nakanishi

..................................................

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to the professional film writer Ryota Nakanishi as author and a link to www.ryotanakanishi.com is provided.

This film article is for educational purpose only.