Saturday, March 26, 2016

Zhuo gui he jia huan (1990)

... aka: Spooky Family

Directed by:
Yuet-Sang Chin

Set in small Chinese village at the turn-of-the-century when things like photographs and electricity were new, this opens with a family getting their picture taken while a recurring Asian twist on the famous Addams Family theme song plays. Father Hung Ping (Kent Cheng) is a luckless ghost / vampire buster and budding scientist who has several vampires, including a virginal former Army general (a prized possession!) in his collection that he keeps sleeping with spell paper. Down in his lab he's created something called a “Human and Corpse Linking Machine;” a hand-cranked contraption that he hopes will give him greater power over the vampires by syncing human brains with the undead, thus allowing them to be telepathically controlled. Using his bumbling, dim-bulb grown son Ming (Laap-Gei Cheung) as a guinea pig, he proves the device works... yet still needs a bit of fine tuning to perfect. However, there's a lot of stress in the family because ghoul busting has been slow recently and the area hasn't had an incident in over a year. Because of that, Hung's abrasive wife (Pauline Wong) is forced to support the entire family as a fortune teller, a skill their daughter Fa (Elvina Kong) also proves adept at.

Finally, someone comes to Hung Ping's home with a job for him. A blue-faced “copper vampire” has been causing problems in Western China and he's hired to stop it. Little does he know, but he's being set up by some evil magicians who want revenge on him. If the vampire is captured and our hero puts it in his collection, it will bring him and his entire family bad luck. If her isn't able to capture it, his reputation will be ruined. Kind of a Catch 22 situation. To make the vampire even more powerful, the wizards cast black magic spells and pour both poison and blood down its throat. In fact, they end up making it so powerful, the revived vamp just goes ahead and kills all three of them right then and there. Hung Ping and Ming finally show up to do battle and get into a long and intricate fight with the near-unstoppable creature, which involves a sword, mirrors, spell paper, bow-and-arrow, fire, a magic coin and a really long stick. They're finally able to subdue it by using one of its weaknesses against it: coffin nails dipped in 50-year-old “cock blood.” That's chicken blood, you pervs.

With it finally under control, they take the vampire back home, where Hung Ping decides to master using his new machine before taking on the more powerful vamp. Because his son is too immature and klutzy, he has their loyal, somewhat goofy “ghost servant” (Peter Chan), who's set to be reborn into a human body soon for all of his good service, help him out. A mishap ends up allowing the weaker vampire to actually control him instead of vice versa and do things like reaching for one of his wife's clients' (Sandra Ng) breasts and threatening to beat and rape her. The insanely jealous wife doesn't trust her husband one bit and especially hates his “Colleague Sister” (Nina Li), whose image shows up from time to time in liquids to talk to him and warn him of potential dangers.

Since rumor has quickly spread about Hung Ping's latest acquisition, his rival, Top Wizard (Billy Lau), shows up and duels him for possession of the prized copper vampire. Not quite realizing what he's getting himself into, Top Wizard then destroys all of the barriers keeping the super-powerful vampire in check and gets himself killed. Replenished by his latest victim's blood, the near-unstoppable bloodsucker then decides to raise an army of ghosts and attack Hung Ping's home. Can he and his family stop them? And can the wife put her hatred of Colleague Sister aside for them to effectively work together? No, not really, but the comedic rivalry between the two ladies ends up becoming the highlight of the entire film.

This typical HK mix of slapstick comedy, magic, action and horror spends a good hour concentrating on childish gags and slapstick set pieces (including a bit where a randy poltergeist makes the dad dry hump a pole in front of his kids); only some of which are funny. The episodic nature of the first hour makes this feel shapeless and aimless but, thankfully, by the time everything does fall into place we're treated to a very long (20+ minutes), action-packed and frequently hilarious extended fight sequence full of great stunts and clever moments. It comes as no surprise then that the director is best known as a stuntman and action coordinator himself. This also offers up some fine comedic acting, particularly in the case of Wong, who's very funny as the wife.

Because this did well in theaters, Ghost Legend (1990), yet another ghost comedy starring Cheng, was released as a sequel under the title Zhuo gui he jia huan II ma yi chuan qi. The VCD release from China Star has burnt-in English subtitles.

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