Monday, May 27, 2024

Bi gui zhuo (1986)

... aka: 俾鬼捉
... aka: 誰當鬼
... aka: Bei gwai yuk
... aka: Ghost Snatchers, The
... aka: Invasion from the Beyond
... aka: Shui dang gui (Who Is the Ghost?)

Directed by:
Ngai Choi Lam

Nearly every guy working at Fox Centre, a high rise office building, has the hots for secretary Judy Hsu (former Taiwanese model Shu-Yuan Hsu). She's so in demand she makes interested parties fill out an application that, according to the subtitles, is "To check if you've in recent years got V.D., syphilis or AIDS. Also your size and lastingness." What nobody knows is that Judy is the target of evil spirits. During a late night office party, lightning strikes the building and Judy is accosted in the bathroom by said spirits. The walls split, a long corridor opens up, hands burst through and start throwing her around and then a giant hand grabs her. Now possessed, a voice regularly calls out to her, demanding she "Kill all men and women!" Sometimes her eyes glow red and she's aided by the pale-faced ghosts of former Japanese soldiers. So why Judy? Well, it has something to do with her having a yen horoscope.

Meanwhile, we meet luckless "fatty" Bong Chu (Jing Wong); your standard HK ghost-comedy leading men who creates a mess out of pretty much everything he touches ... and life returns the favor! He's the type who can't even sit down for a simple breakfast without a fly landing in his fish congee. Since he's unemployed and still living at home, his parents make an arrangement with his uncle, Pien-Chou Fan (Stanley Fung), for him to work as a security guard at Fox Centre. He's trying to save up money to get married to his girlfriend, Hsueh Tai, who's played by the super-cute Joey Wong. Yes, part of the joke is that she's way out of his league, even though there's a catch. Hsueh's brother, Erh-Lung (Michael Wai-Man Chan), is a low rent underworld figure with a thug entourage who swindles his money away and tries to prevent him from dating his sister. Also, a bird shits on his lunch.

Because of its design, the Fox Centre is cursed. It all has something to do with yin and yang and magnetic forces and spiritual fields and feng shui and Japanese soldiers being executed on the site of the building during the war and now wanting to rebuild the Nippon Empire and, well, let's just say Fox Centre was erected in the wrong place in a super-specific way that's made it a hot spot for paranormal activity. Back when the building was first being built, several construction workers died under mysterious circumstances. And then the architect who designed the project (supposedly) died by suicide. And then the Inquiries Commission chairman in charge of investigating the mysterious deaths died himself. You get the picture.

Since it's a special time of year when all the yins and yangs are compromised or something, anyone working there who was also born during a certain time of the year is in danger, which happens to include Bong, his uncle and Hsueh. They seek assistance from Hsueh's fortune teller godsister, Ling Chang (Miss Hong Kong 1984 and future Mrs. Sammo Hung, Joyce Godenzi), who advises the chairman (Wai Shum) of things he can do to thwart the evil. That involves closing up parts of the building, like the top floor and the parking garage, and other things that he's not willing to do. 

Ling, who's young, beautiful and has a good personality, also becomes the unlikely love interest of Pien-Chou, who's middle-aged, average and a pervert who spends all his free time in porn theaters and massage parlors. Hey, you guys already used that hot-chick-who-can-do-1000-times-better-hooking-up-with-a-complete-idiot joke once already! Ling goes out of town for a single day to try to get them help and what does Pien-Chou do? He tries to have sex with the possessed Judy, even after he's explicitly told she's a ghost!

Dumb moments aside, this movie is packed with so many ghostly, gory, weird shenanigans that it almost succeeds in spite of itself. We get a face pulled off, an ear bitten off, a heart ripped out of a chest, eyeballs ripped out, an exploding head, a nightmare inside of a nightmare, someone split in two with a giant guillotine, someone split in two with a samurai sword, centipede eating, a ghost pissing blood, a movie theater slowly filling with ghosts, a "safety charm" that can be used once to ward off ghosts, a male spirit medium with a dubbed-over female voice, a haunted TV set that eventually sprouts arms and legs and lots of other entertaining stuff. The only thing we don't get is a decent screenplay.

While there's certainly some fun to be had here, that's a bit compromised by needless complication in the plotting, overly familiar characters and too many detours away from the primary story. A good example is a long and utterly pointless scene where Ling summons a "Mahjong ghost;" an awful, big-nosed, stuffed animal looking puppet wearing sunglasses, to help our bumbling heroes win a game. And then there's a subplot where one of the guys loses 3 of his 10 souls and the rest of the cast have to rush around trying to find them and then reunite them with his body before the hospital staff can conduct an autopsy. So what does any of that have to do with the haunted building? Not a damn thing really. It's like someone just came up with ideas they liked and threw them into the stew whether they belonged here or not.

Toward the end, we learn the only way to banish the evil is to locate the portal to a spiritual realm called "Asolo Field." While there, they must find the "Ghost King's skeleton," put a spell on it, return intact with something called a "longevity rope" and then let a virgin (Joey Wong's character) hold it. Oh yeah, and the only people who can enter are those that are yang. Got that? Nope, well then forget that and just enjoy the strangeness of the colorfully-lit ghost realm, which is accessed through a portal in the women's restroom mirror and culminates in a fight against an undead Japanese general and his animated skeleton (a well-executed puppet effect) around a lake of acid.

The director also made THE SEVENTH CURSE (1986), a better, more-polished horror-comedy than this one, the excellent rape-revenge film Her Vengeance (1988), the manga adaptation and box office hit The Peacock King (1989) and its sequel, Saga of the Phoenix (1989), Erotic Ghost Story (1990), another big hit in Hong Kong, the cult classic Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) and, his final film, The Cat (1992). With a track record like that, it's a true shame he abruptly stopped working in film altogether in 1992.

Also in the cast are Charlie Cho (THE FIRST VAMPIRE IN CHINA) as a Mahjong player, Lap-Ban Chan (HOUSE OF THE LUTE) as Hsueh's granny, Tony Leung (who also wrote the script) as a security guard, Tau-Wan Yue as a cross-eyed security guard, Siu-Ming To as a cross-eyed TV ghost and lots of other familiar faces.

This Golden Harvest production did middling business at the box office. It was first released on VHS in Hong Kong in 1986 on the Pony Canyon label. That was followed by VCD and DVD releases from Fortune Star. The latter includes an English subtitle option, as does the Malaysian DVD release from Speedy Video. There's no Blu-ray to my knowledge, though this seems like a prime candidate for such a release so it'll probably happen eventually.

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