Thursday, January 30, 2020

Zheng Jinyi de gui gu shi (1990)

... aka: 鄭進一的鬼故事
... aka: Cheng Chin-I's Ghost Story
... aka: De gui gu shi
... aka: Ghost Story
... aka: Zheng Jinyi's Ghost Story

Directed by:
Cheng Chin-I (Chun-Yat Cheng)

Broke college junior Tze Shen Li (Yu-Nan Chang), who's studying fine art at a university in Taipei, arrives in a remote mountain town via train. Instead of resting on his winter break, he's decided to pay a visit to a reclusive sculptor / doll maker Master Au Lung (played by the director) in hopes he'll allow him to be his student and teach him everything he knows. After hearing his credentials (he's the top student in his class) and learning he's traveled very far to meet him, Au Lung puts him up in a spare bedroom. Also staying there is spastic, retarded servant Au Tu (Hsiao-shun Hsu), who is constantly either laughing or crying, bounces up and down, picks his nose, throws Tze Shen's clothes on the floor and sometimes keeps a monkey on a chain that usually lies on top of his head. Master Lung forgets to even mention he also has a daughter named Hsien Chi (Hsing-Chi Wang), who surprises the new guest late his first night bringing him some tea. The next morning, Au Tu finds his beloved monkey dead and, curiously, the Master orders it to be drained of all its blood before it's buried. He claims that will "keep it from harming humans" as a ghost.

While the master and servant are away, Tze Shen uses the opportunity to try to romance Hsien Chi. He follows her through the woods and is led to a boiling pot of blood. After the dead monkey's head leaps out at him, he runs off and has a late night stroll with Hsien Chi, who seems to appear and disappear at will. Ghost or no, the two become lovers. But Tze Shen soon finds out the man whose work he's idolized all this time isn't such a great man after all. He doesn't offer up much in the way of instruction, refuses to discuss or even acknowledge his daughter, worships a mysterious God and slaps the annoying but otherwise harmless Au Tu in the face. When Au Tu turns up dead, he refuses to even honor him at his funeral. Turns out, there's a good reason for that.

Late one night, Tze Shen stumbles across Master Lung out in the wood practicing some kind of black magic ritual using Au Tu's corpse. His hands catch fire and then he shoots some blue lasers at the body; reviving it long enough for a bunch of blood to start gushing out of the neck. But if you think you have a handle on where this movie's going with the generic title, the ghost, the black magic, the over-the-top retarded character... think again. This isn't another Hong Kong ghost comedy. It's mostly serious in tone and the ghost isn't even the primary focus. Plus there's one other plot detail I've not yet mentioned... Killer dolls!

Yes, the Master's creations have a life of their own. He achieves this through something he calls "blood injected soul power:" Killing someone, sculpting a doll in their image, giving them a bath in fresh blood and then transferring their souls into dolls using black magic. POV camerawork follows the dolls from under sheets and shuffling around the house, they're seen feasting on a corpse in a nightmare and there's even some lovably crude stop motion animation to bring them to life. The score (also by the director), photography and camerawork are all surprisingly good. My next pleasant surprise was that this "ghost story" (called "Master Au Ruen's Folk Art Doll" in the credits) turned out to be just the first half of a two story anthology.

Next up is something the subs call "Don't Fing the Ghost" which I'm pretty sure was meant to be "Don't RING the Ghost." We start with a short vignette as three couples sit around telling scary stories. Deng (Vent Teng) recalls a European urban legend he once heard. Supposedly, if you dial "0" thirteen times on your phone at the stroke of midnight you get direct access to hell and can even talk to deceased friends and relatives. The three men do it, pass the phone around and one of them ends up possessed.

Widowed businesswoman Hsiu Chuen (Chung-Mei Liu) is the take-no-shit general manager of a company and a single mother to a little girl named Tin Tin (Tang Tang). A drug addicted, disgruntled former employee (Mi Ah) whom she had fired for sexual harassment decides to terrorize her with heavy-breathing obscene phone calls. If that's not bad enough, immature employee Lan Yiu (Lan Tsao) keeps trying to fix her up with her brother (Jun-Rong Yang) and her sleazy ex-boyfriend, Chia Fen (Yu-Hou Chou), keeps hitting her up for money, even going so far as to break into her car and then crashing her daughter's birthday party just to humiliate her for not caving in to his monetary demands. At the party, one of the guests (Yung-Cheng Chang) brings up the dial-0-13-times-for-hell "rumor" he heard, which plants an idea in Tin Tin's little head. Why not call so she can speak to her dead father?

I didn't expect this to be up to the standard of the first half but it's also good in its own way. The story mixes up a number of horror subgenres: telephone terror, stalker / sex maniac, evil kid, slasher, ghost / possession and more into a fun and unpredictable way. Scenes of the put upon heroine dealing with one extreme annoyance after another are depicted in a genuinely amusing and blackly comic way and the horror elements all come together nicely during the finale.

For some reason, there's no IMDb page for this title and it's missing from most other horror databases. I don't think it was ever officially released here in America but the VCD and DVD versions distributed in Asia have burnt-in English subtitles. Even better, the English version has been hiding out on Youtube for years now just waiting to be watched. Added bonus: the quality of the upload isn't terrible. Check it out!

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