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.


Vudú sangriento (1973)

... aka: Black Exorcist
... aka: Black Voodoo Exorcist
... aka: Bloody Voodoo
... aka: Vengeance du zombie, La
... aka: Vengeance of the Zombie, The
... aka: Voodoo Black Exorcist

Directed by:
Manuel Caño

"A thousand years ago" in Nigeria, a woman's lover accidentally killed her husband during a fight. The adulterous duo were then brought in front of their tribe for punishment. She ended up losing her head and he had a pin dipped in curare driven through his neck and was then entombed in a cave. NASA stock footage (hey, why not?) brings us up to the present day. The sarcophagus containing the mummified remains of the dead man - a prince, no less - are loaded onto a luxury Caribbean cruise ship and placed in storage. The mummy's new owner, Dr. Robert Kessling ("Alfred May" / Alfredo Mayo), wants to bring the mummy to Port-au-Prince to do some televised conference and brings a few colleagues along on the trip. There's Freddy ("Alexander Abrahan"), who's assigned to watch over the coffin in the storage compartment and then there's attractive redhead Sylvia (Eva "Lion" / León), Kessling's secretary and lover, whom he wants to marry. Mrs. Thorndyke ("Mary River" / María Antonia del Río) , a nutty tarot-card reading old woman, predicts an unexpected visitor aboard the ship. They get one when the mummy springs to life and immediately smashes a poor kitty. The mummy just as quickly manages to regenerate back to bald-domed human form as Prince Gatanebo (Aldo Sambrell). The Prince just as quickly changes back into mummy form from time to time to kill whoever happens to be in his way.

When Freddy tries to steal an invaluable gold ring off the corpse, it comes to, slaps him in the face and then injects him with a substance, saying "You will do what I want!" Now with a faithful helper at his side, the mummy goes about trying to reunite with the reincarnation of his lost love Kenya, who happens to be Sylvia. How convenient! Sylvia finds herself unexplanably drawn to the sarcophagus: "I had the impression of being turned inside-out into a state of no gravity." Gatanebo decapitates a steward with his sword and leaves the head on Sylvia's bed as an offering. Seeing how there's a murderer on the loose, the Captain decides it would be best to dock early in Kingston, Jamaica so the local police can come on board and investigate. Dr. Kessling is supposed to pick up a doctor at the airport anyway, but Gatanebo and Freddy manage to get to him first and run over him with a steamroller! Inspector Dominguez ("Ferdinand" / Fernando Sancho) shows up, says "When I don't have a lead, I drink gin and wait." then leaves without doing anything.

Gatanebo finally reveals himself to Kessling and promises to help him with his voodoo studies in exchange for anonymity. Kessling lets him impersonate his flattened colleague Dr. Craig so he can get back on the ship without being detected. The mummy-man dishes the dirt on voodoo rituals and says "Three centuries in museums, I have learned many, many things." He's also lost his sacred ring and wants it back. Upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, the mummy gets into a series of little adventures. He stops by a television station to slap a dancer around and kill her sugar daddy. Then he gets into a fight with a man armed with a fire hose and kills him. Finally, he has Freddy kidnap Sylvia and the two drag her back to some caves. The inspector and some policemen show up for the incredibly anti-climactic finale.

Awful editing, terrible English dubbing, bare bones plotting that still manages to be confusing, some really bad makeups and thorough technical ineptitude turn this one into a laugh riot in no time. During one of the murder scenes, both the cameraman and the director are clearly visible in a mirror several times. It keeps zipping back to the "thousand years ago" scenes and tints them red to pad out the running time. The director's tendency to film his actors at the edge of the frame doesn't hold up to well with the full screen presentation, where people's heads, faces and sometimes their entire bodies are off-screen. The film also boasts ones of the laziest and most incompetent police inspectors of all time. He bitches about being tired and hot, constantly fans himself with his hat and has dialogue like "I'm not used to thinking so much." This was a typical role for the portly Sancho, who played similar roles in many other genre films.

There's lots of misinformation about this one on the web, particularly in regards to the cast. The Anglacized credits are at least partially to blame for that. Second-billed "star" Tanyeka Stadler is usually listed as playing Kenya, but that's not actually the case. Kenya is also played by León (in blackface!), the real female star here despite being billed sixth. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say Stadler (probably a fake name to begin with) is the large-breasted, drag-queen-looking fire dancer whose routines they keep showing over and over again. The actor who plays Freddy also plays Kenya's husband in the pre-credits footage. I recognize this guy but can't place him at the moment.

It was a Spanish / American production and was filmed in Haiti, Jamaica and Santo Domingo. The director (who also made the IMO much-better SWAMP OF THE RAVENS) probably just hired out a cruise ship for the filming, so I'm sure all involved at least got a nice vacation out of this.

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