MARCH 10, 2009
Everyone remembers their first trip to a Grindhouse night at the New Beverly... because they probably got mad at how late the first movie started. While you’d probably never want to set your watch to any movie start time there, the GH nights in particular tend to run later than scheduled. Why? Well, there’s usually a guest, a raffle, a super-sized trailer reel.... plus, unlike most theaters, the Bev won’t start a movie when there’s still a lot of people trying to get snacks. But me? I love the delays, because it means that on a night when I am working late, I can leave my office in Burbank at 7:50 and still make it over the hill, thru Hollywood, and into my usual seat at the Bev in time for something like Encounters Of The Spooky Kind II (Cantonese: Gui Yao Gui), which was scheduled to begin at 7:30. In fact, I got there in time for the raffle and trailers, which means I could have stopped for beer, but I digress.
Anyway, while not as awesome as I Love Maria (which wasn’t horror, but was still one of the top 10 “discoveries” I’ve made at the Bev), it’s certainly better than Return Of The Demon, my previous “kung-fu horror” movie. A big part of that is Sammo Hung, who stars in Encounters. You might know him from his short-lived show Martial Law, or as the sidekick in a few Jackie Chan movies, but you really owe it to yourself to check out one of his starring roles. The cool thing about Sammo is that he’s a bit chunky, so he looks like a normal guy, yet he’s able to pull all these moves off (long before wire-fu took over and gave guys like Jet Li a lame excuse to be lazy). And he can play a martial arts student believably, while retaining the everyman feel that a guy like Jet Li can’t quite pull off.
Another thing I dig about these movies is the kitchen sink attitude. I can only think of a handful of American movies that embrace so many genres in one film (Princess Bride comes to mind), but a Hong Kong movie? I’d be confused if it stuck to one or two genres. Encounters is equal parts a kung fu movie, a love story, a buddy comedy, and a horror movie. And even the horror is varied; you get vampires, ghosts, zombies, and possession (hence the all encompassing “Supernatural” tag). And the sad/funny thing about it is that it’s wholly commercial. I can understand why a studio might be unwilling to take a chance on a Repo - it’s a weird movie that requires total focus to understand. But this is nothing of the sort - it's fairly simple and immensely entertaining, so why aren’t our studios making their own cross-genre movies? Why is Princess Bride (and to a lesser extent, Armageddon, which functions as a sci-fi, buddy, comedy, action, and romantic movie) the exception and not the rule?
Oh well, it just makes me enjoy movies like this all the more. Sure it’s got some pacing issues, and the kitchen sink attitude means that entire plot threads and characters get sort of phased out of the movie (Sammo’s girlfriend, for example, is nowhere to be seen in the final 20 minutes or so, despite the fact that she’s the reason why the villain is after him in the first place), but that doesn’t diminish the fun. The martial arts action is exceptional, and while it’s not exactly scary, the “anything goes” approach keeps the horror elements constantly surprising. The opening scene has Sammo and the girlfriend facing off against a pair of vampires, resulting in a four-way neck biting scene that left me cheering. Then the main plot kicks in, which concerns a ghost, but that doesn’t stop a pair of zombies from attacking Sammo in one of the film’s best fight scenes.
Also, this movie may have inadvertently invented the “fetch quest”. Those who play MMORPGs are familiar with the term - it refers to a quest in which your character has to go collect 10 particular mushrooms or 20 pieces of wolf in order for a non-playable character to make their trademark recipe, which they will share with you (or inexplicably give you a suit of armor). It’s an annoyance in the games; not only does it make little sense (why are they trusting a stranger with this?), but it also can be time-consuming, particularly if the items are rare and other players are trying to get them as well. Anyway, early on in the movie, Sammo is instructed to get 60 (something Asian)s in order to make “Congee”, a delicacy that looks quite terrible if you ask me. It is unknown if Sammo dinged as a result of this.
The movie also has what may be my favorite “awful” line in a movie ever. Not that I think the actual act (which isn’t carried out) is funny by any means, but there is something strangely comical about a bad guy exclaiming “I’ve never raped a ghost before!”. Maybe you had to be there.
You may have noticed that this is a sequel. I haven’t seen the original, but it was made 10 years prior, and Sammo’s character has a different name, so I am guessing any connective narrative tissue is minor, if present at all. However, Tall F'n Joe won a copy of the original during a raffle, so maybe he will be kind enough to bring it next time so I can borrow and check for sure. I’d hate to miss any subtleties.
What say you?