Monday, November 13, 2017

Dao yin jian chu cha (1990)

... aka: Business Trip to the Netherworld
... aka: You Have Arrived in the Hades

Directed by:
Chen-Kuo Chao

Obnoxious, rich young businessman Li Bin (Ching-Huang Yang) gets distracted on the road and drives off the edge of an incomplete bridge during the day. When he lands at the bottom it's suddenly night and foggy. He accidentally blows up a gas station tossing out a lit match after a strange encounter with the attendant and finally arrives home where his wife Hsi Huan (So Lai-Mei) and sister-in-law Hsi Dan (Ting Chang) are watching a horror film. Li Bin tries to talk to them and tries to get their attention in various ways (like turning the TV back on multiple times after they've turned if off) but they pay no attention to him... almost as if he isn't there at all. When Li Bin tries to give his wife a diamond ring as a birthday present she continues to ignore him and dances and sings to “Like a Virgin” to which Li Bin responds “Don't sing it! You know I hate Madonna! You imitate her! Look at you! Disgusting!"

As you've probably already guessed, Li Bin is actually dead and now a ghost. Someone just needs to tell him that. After a friend calls to inform the ladies of his accident and death, he still doesn't believe it. A trip to the morgue to view his own dead body the following day doesn't even fully convince him. Damn, talk about a serious case of denial. That soon ends when he discovers he casts no reflection and a ghost by the name of Ma Tung (Chung-Yu Huang) shows up.

Ma Tung, first seen in a morgue feasting on a corpse with his vampire fangs, then takes us into a flashback set 300 years earlier in feudal times. Li Bin was a noble governor who was framed, leading to an order to execute him and his family. Ma Tung was his servant, a swordsman who attempted to protect Li Bin's wife and her sister and then lead them to safety. Things didn't go as planned. Before dying, Ma Tung cut off his own beard which excluded him from ever being able to return to human form again. He's been a wandering ghost ever since. Li Bin doesn't necessarily have to face the safe fate. In fact, since he died an untimely death there are ways to return to his human life in seven days. Ma Tung offers to help but wants a grave marker out of the deal, which will finally put his spirit to rest. But fiiiiirst...

Hsi Huan's friends decide to throw her a surprise birthday party... a ghost-themed birthday party... just one day after the death of her husband. And no one seems to mind. A mutual friend of the couple, ladies man Hua Ka Yiu (Huang An), already has his sights set on Hsi Huan, so Li Bin and Ma Tung decide to wreck the party. After all, these two have some time to kill. It's not like returning to your human life or ending 300 years of being a miserable homeless ghost would present you with more pressing issues to deal with. Either way, they toy with the guests, start a cake fight and put on white sheets so they can be seen. One of the guests, Fan Hsi Hai (Hsing Wang), is an expert at catching souls and has brought along a “magic mirror” to try to drive them away.

The comic party scene lasts about 30 minutes, which is 15 minutes longer than it should. Afterward, the ghosts have to return to Hades before curfew and Hsi Huan and Hua Ka Yiu accidentally get sucked through a portal back with them. In Hades, we learn you need a passport / spell book to gain access, that ghosts are money obsessed cheaters and can easily be bribed into serving the living and that you can go to jail for doing bad things, as Li Bin finds out for accidentally blowing up that gas station. While in prison, an effete “foreigner” who died from AIDS tries to trick Li Bin into drinking after him and is punched repeatedly (it's about as funny as it sounds) and our hero is finally sprung out by his buddies. They all end up going to Li Bin's cellmate Black Jaguar's high rise penthouse and he gives them money and then sends them on their way.

The gang go to dinner and find they only serve disgusting food in Hades like steamed brain, eyeball soup and mice with wine sauce. And the rest is basically a similar bunch of crazy, fast-paced gags involving portraits coming to life, a ghost wiping someone's ass, a slutty waitress losing her hand, a zombie attack on a car thwarted by flaming spell papers, 360 degree head spins, a battle with a hellcop brandishing a bazooka and more. The two best bits involve a mahjong game with ghosts using their powers to cheat and some hopping vampires in a cave whose mouths glow red and then shoot out fully-formed “virgin ghost” child hopping vampires.

This is a crazy mixed bag of various nonsense. Some scenes are fun; others not so much. Humor-wise, this misses more often than it hits. Action-wise, it does a little better. Script-wise, it's an absolute mess. It's more than a little annoying that earthly goals are set up for both of the main ghosts yet this doesn't even bother following through with those. In fact, that plot point is dropped altogether. It also can't decide whether the human characters can or cannot see, hear and touch the ghosts at any given time because sometimes they can and sometimes they can't without any explanation and only when it happens to be convenient to the plot. Many of the scenes have clearly been influenced by Beetlejuice (1988). Actually this rips off a few of its gags pretty blatantly.

Despite being released on video and VCD with (typically poorly translated) English subs, this Taiwanese production has no votes on any of the popular movie sites. The same director / writer also made something called Ghost Bustin' (1985) that I'm not going to be in any big hurry to find a copy of.

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