Encounter of the Spooky Kind [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (1st June 2021).
The Film

Although rickshaw driver Big Guts Cheung (Eastern Condors' Sammo Kam-Bo Hung) has a reputation for bravery and daring, it is more in his size and his fighting skills than in things that go bump in the night. When he nearly catches his unhappy wife in the arms of another man, he becomes a laughing stock of his buddies and the neighborhood gawkers. Unbeknownst to him, his respected Master Tam (Drunken Master's Wong Ha) who is actually in bed with his wife when he takes the older man on visits to the town brothels of which he is sworn to secrecy less Master Tam's lechery threaten his political aspirations. Fearing that Cheung may force his wife to divulge the identity of her lover, Master Tam lets Advisor Lau (Police Story's Tai-Bo) hire a Maoshan sorcerer Chin Hoi (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin's Lung Chan) to use black magic to kill Cheung. Chin Hoi's apprentice Fa (A Chinese Ghost Story's Wu Ma) makes a wager that Cheung does not have the courage to spend the night in the decaying Ma Ancestral Hall that Cheung cannot resist.

Disapproving of his elder brother's betrayal of their master's Maoshan ideals for monetary gain, Tsui (Millionaires' Express's Fat Chung) instructs Cheung on how to survive the night. Cheung follows Tsui's instructions and is able to evade the walking (hopping?) corpse Chin Hoi controls like a marionette to attempt to kill Cheung. The next day, Fa ups the wager for Cheung to spend another night there. Tsui instructs him on the items he will need to repel the walking corpse and bewildered Chin Hoi winds up in a full body cast. When the sorcerer fails, Lau arranges for Cheung to be set up for his wife's murder, with plenty of neighbors ready to testify to the couple's arguments. Although Master Tam and Lau assure Cheung that they have been bribing the police and the courts, he learns from a guard that he is to be hanged without a trial. Tsui decides to take Cheung under his wing and train him in Maoshan magic so that he can defend himself against further attacks by Chin Hoi who has discovered that Tsui is helping Cheung. While Cheung is still being hunted by the police inspector (Fist of Fury's Ching-Ying Lam), Cheung and Tam become literal pawns in a climactic black magic duel.

Taking cues from Golden Harvest's martial arts films and Shaw Brothers' gross-out horror pics – Encounters of the Spooky Kind, the first production of director/star Hung's Golden Harvest-supported Bo Ho Film Company, is one of Hong Kong's benchmark horror comedies. The film proved successful theatrically and would influence Hung's The Dead and the Deadly, Mr. Vampire, and several imitators along the lines of Till Death Do We Scare and Haunted Cop Shop in this new to Hong Kong audiences genre. The balance seems tipped towards comedy starting with a pair of bickering ghosts inside urns until they rip and bite chunks of flesh out of Hung, but Hung does manage some Shaw-esque horror atmospherics while keeping the grislier details of black magic audience-friendly. Hung uses martial arts to fights off walking corpses and sword-wielding village police in comical fashion, but the final magic duel veers from comedy – Hung and Wong Ha are possessed by monkey and squirrel gods who talk in sped-up tape voices – to horror to a freeze frame ending that is supposed to be the comic equivalent of Ricky spanking Lucy but felt not just puerile but quite misogynistic even in the pre-Woke era. Woven through the original score by Frankie Chan (Fallen Angles) are "borrowed" cues from Phantasm and the music from the "Bear Scene" in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
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Video

Released theatrically in the U.K. in 1982, Encounters of the Spooky Kind was more read about than seen outside of the bootleg circuit until a late nineties VHS release in the U.K. and a poor quality DVD stateside through Tai Seng in 2000. Hong Kong Legends' 2001 British DVD was an exclusive remaster with a Hung interview. Fortune Star did their own remastered the film again circa 2005 in HD for IVL's English-subtitled Hong Kong import. Stateside, this remaster version came out on DVD in 2005 as part of Fox's Fortune Star-licensed releases. The possibly-upscaled barebones Hong Kong Blu-ray has been superseded by Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray from a brand new 2K restoration making its worldwide debut. While the blue gels of some of the night interiors might be a little suspect in line with some of the other revisionist touches, the film's few optical effects and wire work holds up well amidst the heightened resolution's revelations in texture of clothes, hair, and the formerly rather nondescript ghost and corpse make-up. Some slow motion bits are softer and grainier as expected. While the main titles are bilingual, the source is free of the subtitles that would have been burnt into the theatrical prints (presumably the "godspeak" was subtitled in both Chinese and English on Hong Kong prints since the source of the English subtitles here is otherwise puzzling).
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Audio

While the Fortune Star-licensed DVDs had the usual poor 5.1 Cantonese, Mandarin, and English remixes and the Hong Kong Blu-ray had a Cantonese 7.1 and Mandarin 6.1 remixes, Eureka has fortunately gone the conservative route with original Cantonese LPCM 1.0 mono, an alternate Cantonese LPCM 1.0 home video mix with some alternate music cues, the original LPCM 1.0 English export dub (which replaces the "shining" cue and some other cues with different ones), as well as Fortune Star's 2000-era rescored redub in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The mono tracks are the way to go, sounding clean and undistorted when it comes to the music and effects work. Everyone is dubbed on the Cantonese tracks and the classic English dub is respectable rather than the more cartoonish tracks bestowed upon some more serious Hong Kong films form the period. Optional English subtitles are available for the Cantonese track while a second subtitle track is enabled with the English tracks for text.
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Extras

The film can view viewed accompanied by a new audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival who discusses Hung's move from stuntman to action director to director with the encouragement of mentor Feng Huang who scripted Hung's directorial debut The Iron-Fisted Monk, the founding of Hung's Bo Ho company (and the origins of the name), Hung looking to Shaw Brothers horror films for inspiration, the more complex characterization and nuanced dialogue courtesy of novelist/screenwriter Ying Wong (The Swordsman), and points out indicators of the period setting and stock characters, proverbs and wordplay buried in the dialogue, as well as the film's influence on subsequent horror comedies domestic and abroad (including Evil Dead II). The archival interview with actor/director Sammo Hung (12:57) is unrelated to film with Hung discussing his Peking Opera career, meeting fellow pupils Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, and his move from stuntman to director. The disc also includes he alternate English opening & closing credits (4:28) sequence from the export version with the "Spooky Encounters" title card, as well as a stills gallery, the film's Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:28), and the U.S. home video trailer (1:26).
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Packaging

Housed with the disc in the keepcase with the 2000-copy limited limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling and reversible poster featuring the film’s original HK artwork is a 23-page collector's booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver who notes the relative lack of a horror tradition in Chinese cinema until the seventies and the significance of Encounter of the Spooky Kind among them, the balance of horror and comedy, and the film's bad taste in certain areas.

Overall

Eureka's Blu-ray of the Hong Kong horror comedy Encounter of a Spooky Kind gives viewers a chance to see just how influential a work it was on eighties Hong Kong and international horror.

 


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