Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Xiong bang (1981)

... aka: Hung bong
... aka: Imp, The

Directed by:
Dennis Yu

Because he's lacking education and experience, Keung Cheung (Charlie Chin) is having a hard time finding a job. His very pregnant wife Lan (Yi-ha Yu) wants him to go back to work at her father's bra factory, but Cheung is sick of relying on the generosity of his father-in-law, who's already hooked them up with a place to stay. Since they're behind on the bills and impoverished, Keung decides to take any job offered to him, as long as he makes it on his own. One evening a newspaper mysteriously ends up on his floor and a gust of sudden wind even more mysteriously blows through the pages to a job listing for a night watchman at an office highrise. Keung applies and gets it. He meets all of his co-workers, the wise and experienced Old Man Uncle Han (Shen Chan), the obnoxious dog-hating Mr. Hong Kong (Ching Wong), the nerdy Little Ting and the chubby Fatty (Kent Cheng), who show him around the building, teach him the normal routine (which involves walking the floors once an hour and calling the control room to check in afterward) and how to work the escalators and video monitors. Mr. Hong Kong describes all of the pitfalls of working the third shift. It seems like all you do is work and sleep, you're always tired and you seldom get to see your loved ones. It's almost like you're living a parellel life to the rest of the world and are usually in such a daze you often see things. Even ghosts...

While at work, Keung gets word he has an emergency phone call from home. He jumps on the elevator, it starts to shake, goes down beneath the ground and basement floors, fills with water and then opens to reveal a green-lit underground lair where strange laughter can be heard and a macabre painting can be seen on the wall. When he returns to his co-workers the elevator looks different, there's no water and no evidence that what happened actually happened. He's also told that there was no phone call from home. While eating some delicious puppy stew (mmm!), Mr. H.K. eats a large chunk and ends up getting a bone wedged in his throat. He's brought in for surgery but the anesthesia seems to have no effect on him. He wakes mid-surgery, pukes up mud, attacks one of the doctors and then keels over. At his funeral, Keung notices a mysterious man ("Wah Ngor" / Hua Yueh) lurking around. That strange man either seems to know something is going on or is causing it. Because all of the strange things didn't start occurring at the office building until Keung arrived, Uncle Han is left in charge of whether to fire him or not. However, he doesn't even get a chance when he's smothered with an old newspaper clipping and has his face scalded with boiling rice.

Meanwhile, something strange is going on with Lan. She's always fatigued, she feels that there's something the doctors sense is wrong with her baby but aren't telling her and a typically mild-mannered dog freaks out whenever it sees her. The mysterious man finally introduces himself as a "geomancer." That's basically a mix between an occult expert and an exorcist. He keeps jars of toads around his home to keep evil at bay and attempts to get to the bottom of things, eventually discovering that all kind of bad things have aligned together for out hero. For starters, he has an extremely rare birthdate which is of such an overwhelmingly negative yin that he's destined to have bad luck, which explains why his professional life has been in shambles. Second, the entire fung shui of his apartment - from the furniture placement to the choice in paint color to the number of rooms - is incredibly accomodating for evil forces. And finally, the office building where he now works used to be the hangout of kidnappers and child murderers and is the sight of frequent ghost sightings. One of the dead kids (the imp of the title) would love to return to life and has decided to take advantage of Keong's negative aura by possessing both him and his wife in hopes of being reincarnated as their child. If the ghost is able to take possession of the baby before it is born, then mass destruction will follow.

Despite being filled with Eastern mythologies and superstitions, the influence of several well-known Western films are very prominent here. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE OMEN (1976) will all come to mind as The Imp plays out since it pinches multiple ideas from all three of those classic films. And if you pay close attention to the music, you'll even hear echoes of the score from CARRIE (1976) on the soundtrack. I was about to give this movie a 2 1/2 star rating. It's super-stylish, colorful and very well-made and acted, but it meanders a bit and the story seems a tad too derivative to give it any higher of a rating. However, a great finale - featuring Keong facing off against all of his resurrected zombie-like co-workers and the evil ghost child in the green-lit high-rise - helped boost this back up a notch. This also feels different than most other Hong Kong ghost films from this decade that I've seen. It's never over-the-top, it's actually coherent and it's quite easy to follow, it has a measured pace, there's minimal gore and the premise plays out completely seriously. There's surprisingly very little humor and no mugging or slapstick to be found, which was just fine by me.

I didn't read up on this movie at all before watching it. Based on the title, I was half-expecting to see a slimy little demon-monster running around killing people. One of the ads (shown below) even seems to suggest this. Instead, I got a classy, stylish and well-done little ghost tale. That's definitely not the worst thing that's ever happened to me.

Very well-regarded in its home country, this influenced numerous later genre films there and even spawned several remakes. A region free DVD distributed by the HK company Mei Ah comes with English subtitles.



Anonymous said...

This movie is a Romp. i agree that the middle section has a certain soso, but for me it`s one of the better lost gems from asia i ever seen. it`s ultra creepy and the final climax amazing ans stilysh

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

The last 15 - 20 minutes are great and the rest was good enough to keep me interested. I'm looking forward to seeing Dennis Yu's other horrors ("The Beasts" and "Evil Cat") now.

musica said...

Yeah, a real underrated little HK horror flick, with a generally creepy atmosphere, and a disturbing ending.

Anonymous said...

Good little HK horror flick, with a genuinely creepy atmosphere, and a disturbing ending,too.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yep, was glad this pulled through at the end. I have seen dozens of other 80s HK horrors since I posted this review and this may be a bit more special than I gave it credit for. Most of the others I've seen are as much comedy-fantasy based as horror while this one is more straight-up horror.

spookyx3 said...

liked THE BEASTS least of the three dennis yu pics i've watched this week; i admit it isn't the type of movie (rape-revenge, LAST HOUSE style) i usually seek out. the neon-green soaked IMP pulled me in for the first third, meandered a little then picked up again for the finale. EVIL CAT (which switches the green lighting to blue) is much more typical '80s HK fare, with jokes and action (wong jing writes and stars). not sure about yu's other horror, GHOST'S HOSPITAL (1988), seemingly only available via an ocean shores VCD.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I'm interested in all of those. I saw that there's a decent-looking, widescreen, subtitled copy of The Beasts on Youtube but I think it may be the cut version so I'll try to find the other before reviewing it.

spookyx3 said...

every single thought i had on these, john charles already mentions in his book: BEASTS reminded me of (more engaging, far less exploitative) THE ISLAND (1985, po chih leong). only kent cheng stands out, acting wise. bunch of animal cruelty (and snakes!). EVIL CAT features the parking garage from A BETTER TOMORROW. good to see master choreographer/director lau kar leung in a lead role.

charles rates IMP 5/10, BEASTS 6/10 & CAT 7/10.

i would recommend THE ISLAND as a nothing-new but suspenseful, fun watch.

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