Friday, January 6, 2023

Ling qi bi ren (1984)

... aka: 靈氣迫人
... aka: 靈氣逼人
... aka: Ling hei bik yan
... aka: Occupant, The
... aka: Tenant, The

Directed by:
Ronny Yu

After having spent most of her youth in Vancouver, Canada, college student Angie (Sally Yeh) returns to Hong Kong for a three week visit to work on her Masters of Arts thesis paper on Chinese superstitions. Strapped for cash and unable to afford to stay at local hostels, she's then forced to deal with questionable used car salesman / Realtor Hansom Wong (Raymond Wong), who's one of those cliché "comic" characters in 80s HK cinema who's supposed to be charming in their pushiness, ineptitude at appealing to the opposite sex and complete lack of self-awareness, yet mostly just comes off as grating and obnoxious. He puts Angie up in a fully-furnished tower block apartment that hasn't been occupied in quite some time. The price is... curiously affordable, which is usually not a good sign. 

Angie's first night there, a heavy wooden table keeps moving to the center of the room, she hears a woman singing and a couple arguing through the walls and there's a frequent knock on the door, yet nobody is there. Someone leaves flowers and a weird note outside her door. She assumes they were from Hansom, but he denies it. Also, the strangely emotionless building caretaker Poon (Hao Ren) clues her in on something else interesting: She's the only person currently staying in the building.

After showing her around at a temple and taking her to see a psychic medium (Mama Hung), Hansom invites himself into Angie's apartment and ends up getting thrown out of the window onto a parked car by an unseen force. Though he's (regrettably) not killed or even injured, the police are still called and Inspector Valentino Chow (Chow Yun-Fat), who's recently been busy busting pickpockets, pimps and sex workers, is on the case. Well, actually, he's not officially on the case for very long.

Due to angering a high-ranking politician after catching him with an underage massage parlor worker, the force has temporarily let Valentino go on an extended "holiday" until things cool down, which opens up plenty of free time for him to assist Angie. Naturally, he too becomes attracted to her, which starts up a rivalry of sorts between him and Hansom, though the men are able to put their differences aside long enough to help Angie investigate.

The previous tenant in Angie's apartment was a popular nightclub singer named Linda Law (Kit-Man Mak), who shot her married lover Robert (Melvin Wong) dead and then committed suicide immediately after. Since she died a painful and unnatural death, Linda continues to haunt her apartment. Angie begins subconsciously taking on some of the dead woman's traits, like suddenly smoking and painting her fingernails red, and things are bound to get worse the longer she stays there. However, the non-religious Angie doesn't necessarily believe in ghosts or the supernatural despite all of the odd occurrences in the apartment.

Trying to knock some sense into her, Valentino takes her to his spiritualist friend, Mr. Chan (Lieh Lo), for advice. He talks about how, within a haunted space, the brain waves of both the ghost and the occupant can start to sync if meditation and other spiritual tactics aren't employed. To ward off possession, the person needs to become one with Jesus, Buddha or some other God so that there's no room left inside for an evil force to inhabit them. So what does Angie do immediately after hearing this? She returns home, lights some candles and calls forth Linda's spirit, getting herself possessed in the process. There's an exorcism attempt, but that only temporarily works. Angie's new friends then must try to come up with a way to rid her of the spirit before she goes back to Canada.

Considering the director and the presence of two charismatic lead actors, all in the earlier stages of their careers, this was a huge disappointment. It's low on action, conceptually and visually unexciting, extremely talky, doesn't feature any decent make-up or special effects (the "best" - and only - real attempt is a single cheap animated ghost) and can't ever seem to find a balance with its disparate genre hopping. The film's dramatic, romantic and supernatural elements all get sidelined as this leans very heavily into the comedy, which turns out to be a fatal mistake.

While Chow and Yeh do have a few pleasant / charming moments together, they're constantly undercut by Wong's endless mugging and camera hogging, which grow extremely tiresome early on, never let up and do the film as a whole irreparable harm. This character should have either been a small part of the film or cut from it altogether instead of becoming the primary focus. Not surprisingly, Wong had a hand in the film's production and financing, and is a "presenter," so that probably explains why he's given the majority of the film's dialogue and is stuck front and center most of the time.

Director Yu made a number of other genre films like The Saviour (1980), THE TRAIL (1983) and Bless This House (1988) in Hong Kong before the international success of his The Bride with White Hair (1993) landed him in Hollywood. There, he's make the horror sequels Bride of Chucky (1998) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003), both of which were successful at the box office, followed by the HK / U.S. co-production Fearless (2006) starring Jet Li, which was also an international hit. This Cinema City release is the worst thing I've seen out of him yet, though it's not exactly terrible either. It's mostly just uninspiring and forgettable.

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