Friday, July 17, 2020

Huo zhu gui (1989)

... aka: 火燭鬼
... aka: 表哥到續集
... aka: 滅火英雄
... aka: Biao ge dao xu ji
... aka: Burning Sensation
... aka: Feng chuk gwai
... aka: Fire Ghost

Directed by:
Ma Wu

In the sepia tone pre-title sequence, a Chinese opera stunt goes wrong and the leading actress accidentally gets torched. Thirty years later, we meet up with a fire brigade responding to a fire in an abandoned building. Ken aka Fireman #7022 (Kenny Bee) has visions of a woman inside screaming for help that no one else can hear, defies his superior's orders, runs in, can't find the woman, leaps through a tall window and is safely caught in a net by his fellow firemen. And all he has to show for it is a stupid little wooden shrine! While this stunt gets him in hot water with the fire chief (James Tien) and put on a three month leave, it also attracts the attention of the dead actresses ghost whose shrine he removed. She - Ling (Carol 'Do Do' Cheng) - follows him everywhere, lives in his TV set (which constantly plays her 1950s operas) and helps protect him as he's now her "benefactor."

Meanwhile, a taxi driver (Blackie Ko) thinks he's in luck when he picks up the lascivious Piu Hung (Eva Lai, a former beauty queen and Miss Asia Pacific) outside of a cemetery and convinces her to accompany him to a "love motel." They don't make it that far when she reveals herself to be an evil seductress / man-hating siren who strangles him to death with a super long mutant tongue that looks like it was made out of Laffy Taffy. Apparently, Piu Hung is a well-known entity in the area because she's a topic on a supernatural-themed late night radio show hosted by Hau-Pau Ma (played by the director), who also happens to be Ken's much older brother.

Because he's now out of a job, the shy, virginal Ken is forced to move in with his macho, sexist, obnoxious, lifelong bachelor bro, who promptly tries to find him a wife because, according to him, he's over twenty now and too old to still be doing "women's work" (cleaning and cooking). Ling makes herself useful by beating up Ken's former boss, jamming a toothbrush into Hau-Pau's mouth and then burning his dick with a lit cigarette (?!) And she's supposed to be the sweet, charming one! When he shows up at work the next day limping, his coworkers stare at him and accuse him of having v.d. Thinking he's cursed with bad luck, Hau-Pau rearranges his furniture and hangs a wok over the front door, which (according to this film) helps ward off evil. That doesn't quite work as planned.

After hearing the radio broadcast about her and having a weird love spell cast on her (which involves plucking the object of your desire's hair, tying it around your finger and then sucking on it), Piu Hung first targets Hau-Pau before setting her sights on Ken. But first she'll have to get past his protector, Ling. It's then a war between the two supernaturally-gifted ladies; one wanting to kill him and the other trying to save him. Seeing how sensitive and skittish Ken is, Ling tries to conceal the fact she's actually a ghost from him as the two start to fall in love. However, since Piu Hung refuses to go away, she's forced to come clean about what she really is in order to save him.

Clearly striving for the widest audience appeal imaginable, this gives viewers comedy, drama, horror, action and romance (read: slow motion love montages set to syrupy songs) all wrapped into one. Unfortunately, it doesn't do any of those genres particularly well, though it's mildly entertaining and sporadically pleasant. Impatient viewers will especially want to steer clear as it takes over an hour for this to go all in on the action and horror and, even then, it trots out mostly cliches as far as HK ghost movies are concerned (spells papers, a magic mirror, laser fx, deadly shawls, coin swords, acrobatic wire work with visible wires, etc.). Some of the more interesting story elements, like invisibility achieved via "glutinous rice powder" and some time traveling, aren't introduced until the film is almost over. Marketing this as a ghost vs. firefighter film, which sounds great in theory so someone should actually make that movie, is also a bit of a cheat seeing how firefighting only features in one brief scene.

While many of the comic set pieces flatline, especially a scene where Hau-Pau and his buddies (Teddy Yip and Clifton Ko) try to cheat a blind friend (James Wong) at mahjong, there are at least a few amusing gags involving the tongue. I'm not sure where exactly this idea originated but seeing how GHOULIES (1985) also featured a seductress with a long killer tongue she uses to strangle someone with, they perhaps got the idea there. The same concept was later used in the obnoxious wanna-be camp horror-comedy The Killer Tongue (1996). When Piu Hung's true self takes shape, she has long red fingernails, teased hair, purple lipstick and crazy eye make-up, so basically she looks like an 80s punk groupie. Except for the vampire teeth. And green blood. And super-stretchy arms.

This Golden Harvest release was available on VHS through Rainbow and Tai Seng. The DVD releases from Fortune Star (as part of their "Legendary Collection") and the Malaysian company Speedy Video both have English subtitle options. Despite being a Ma Wu fan, this isn't one I'm likely to be revisiting.


spookyx3 said...

watching tonight. had this checked off under carol cheng, but it wasn't on my master-list. possibly confused it somewhere along the line with MR. POSSESSED (1988), also starring kenny bee & cheng.

spookyx3 said...

yep. nothing here that hasn't been done the same or better in at least a hundred other ghost-comedies. not much to say. cheng playing against her usual type. MONSTER SQUAD (1987) on the TV.

[watched a crappy online copy with less than optimal google-translated subs, then noticed the "legendary collection" VCD on my shelf this morning... aarrgh!]

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

A definite "Ok, another one off the checklist, now moving on..." type of movie. Not awful but not the least bit memorable. I can't remember where I got my copy now (had this for many years but just now getting around to it) but my subs weren't bad at all. In fact, I was marveling at how they spelled most of the words correctly!

I saw the werewolf on the TV set but haven't seen Monster Squad in so long I didn't even know what movie it was from!

spookyx3 said...

uhh... proving there's only so many ways to say the same thing, this from john charles' 5/10 review in HK FILMOGRAPHY: "nothing on display here that hasn't been handled just as well (or better) elsewhere." FWIW, he says the tongue gags are a reference to A CHINESE GHOST STORY.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I've seen Chinese Ghost Story but apparently don't remember enough about it as I don't remember any tongue gags at all. It's currently on my endless re-watch pile.

spookyx3 said...

there's a giant tongue in one of the main set-pieces. i watched the first one again last year as a refresher for (the still unseen) CGS3...

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