Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meng gui chai guan (1987)

... aka: Banbaia koppu
... aka: Haunted Cop Shop, The
... aka: Haunted Copshop, The
... aka: Haunted Cop Shop of Horrors, The
... aka: Strong Ghost Police Office
... aka: Vampire Cop

Directed by:
Jeffrey Lau

A former cop who's now a monk (well, driven to be a monk by the asshole police chief to be specific) shows up at a police station with a warning for his former boss, Supt. Chun (Fung Woo). He informs him that he's not to let a woman wearing pink into the station after midnight in seven days or else the entire area will be overrun with demons. Why? Well, because in a week it will be The Feast of Yu lan or The Hungry Ghosts Festival when evil spirits can enter this world and police headquarters just so happens to have been built upon a cursed plot of land. Back during World War II, the station used to be a clubhouse for the Japanese army. After Japan lost the war, a bunch of the soldiers committed suicide there by what the subtitles call sabuku but I'm pretty sure they meant seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). Now, the officers make it a ritual to burn dolls every Yu lan at midnight (the exact moment when the gates of hell can be opened) to appease the spirits. As the officers are all busy outside doing that, there are things going on inside that they should be paying attention to...

Sneaky Ming (Billy Lau) is lured out of his cell by a woman dressed in pink. She leads him down the hallway and he's suddenly in the 1940s Japanese clubhouse during its heyday in a sequence clearly inspired by The Shining. After ordering a drink he's led to a private room where men are playing mah jong. He joins them and they somehow get the doofus to bet his life on the game. However, ghosts don't play fair and they change the tiles to make him lose. As punishment, he's forced to open a box containing the spirit of Japanese General Issei (Rico Chu) and from then on out all hell breaks loose at the police station and around town. Sneaky Ming gets bitten and turns into a vampire but is reduced to a pile of ash once sunlight hits him, though the real threat is out in the city hiding in an abandoned apartment building during the day and raising the dead at night.

After an utterly perplexing scene at a slaughterhouse where a bunch of guys drink cow blood, female police inspector Fanny Ho (Kitty Chan) is brought in to keep an eye on our bumbling heroes Macky Kim (Jacky Cheung) and Man Chiu (Ricky Hui, basically repeating his MR. VAMPIRE character). First, the guys have to prove to Fanny that there are vampires loose in the city. A trip to a morgue where a female corpse rises from the slab and attacks accomplishes that easily enough. Then, it's time to hunt down and put a stake to the evil and nearly unstoppable General. A consult with chef Uncle Chung (Kim-Wan Chan), a former exorcist, reveals the only way to eliminate the vamp for good is to find seven coffin nails and drive them into different parts of his body.

What is it about Hong Kong horror comedies? This isn't my first time, or twentieth time for that matter, watching one of these things where I felt my patience being tested the entire first half before it suddenly becomes strangely enjoyable in the second. This one suffers from focusing the first 40 or so minutes on Cheung and Hui's buffoon officers, who are not only morons but also not likable in the least. During one “comic” scene, they kill a dog and try to trick their new supervisor into eating it during lunch break just to give her bad luck. There are also a dozen or so really dumb gay jokes (pretty much on the level of “ew gay!”) plus some toilet humor and none of it is particularly funny. While most the better examples of this type of film suffer from some of these same problems, they also have some kind of grounding point (typically a major character playing it completely straight) to balance it all out. The best this offers up is the Fanny character but she's not introduced until the movie is halfway over and isn't even really present at the finale.

Director cameo!

Cop Shop does offer up individual scenes that are good. Even though it takes awhile for it to hit its stride, it's lively and fun once it does. Many of the action and horror scenes deliver the goods and, while the gags are hit-or-miss throughout, some moments are genuinely funny, like the “Eminent Star Strikes Dipper” pose. Fat Chung (a regular in these kind of movies) has a hilarious cameo as a retired ghost / vampire buster who gets to fight four of the ghouls before unceremoniously getting his arm ripped off. It was also a nice touch to actually name drop Ching-Ying Lam, even though the subs misspell his name. This movie could have used someone like him in it.

A Golden Harvest release, this was a decent sized hit in Hong Kong, grossing nearly 12 million dollars. Lau (who also has a cameo here as a gay ghost) returned with THE HAUNTED COP SHOP II (1988) the following year, which did nearly as well at the box office. He went on to make several other horror comedies like Operation Pink Squad II (1989 aka Thunder Cops) and Mortuary Blues (1990) before graduating to more 'prestigious' work. The same can be said for co-writer Kar-Wai Wong, who went on to a highly acclaimed career as a writer and director with films like Happy Together (1997), In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004).

This was never officially released here in America through the video era and the best one could do for a long time was the 1997 VCD from Mega Star, which came with English subtitles. The newer release from Asian Crush is a restored print and also has an English subs option.

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