The Occupant (1984)

MARCH 23, 2010


I was delighted to see that Brian Quinn’s Grindhouse Festival would be holding another Hong Kong-centric night just on principle, but even moreso that the horror-based film of the two, The Occupant (Ling Qi Bi Ren) was screening first. The horror one tends to go second more often than not, which means I fall asleep. And these movies are so obscure, I can’t go back and fill in the gaps with a bootleg DVD or even clips from Youtube. One of the previous entries didn’t even have a cast listing on its IMDb page!

The Occupant is directed by Ronny Yu and stars Chow Yun-Fat though, so it has some semblance of a reputation. And it’s also far more coherent and even slightly commercial compared to the others I have seen in this series. The anything goes/kitchen sink style of stuff like Seeding Of A Ghost is not really present here; logic occasionally takes a vacation, but there are no jaw-droppingly batshit WTF moments (there were plenty in the 2nd film though, more on that later!).

Hell, I can even describe the plot without any trouble! It’s about this girl who travels to Hong Kong to do her thesis, and the apartment she rents is haunted by the ghost of a pop singer who killed herself after a spat with her married lover. She is aided/hindered by two would-be love interests, a cop (Chow) and the nerdy realtor, whose attempts to hook up with her border on stalker-ish at times (but he’s so goofy that it never comes off that way). So you got this cute little love triangle, presented in the usual slapstick-y Hong Kong way, and then you have a pretty traditional “Why am I being haunted and how can we stop it?” plot (again, with some 80s silliness). Even the translation was less amusing than usual - nothing really egregious, just the expected typos (“Sonatabitch” was one favorite).

It was great to see Chow in a lighter role. I’ve only seen a few of his films, most of which are hard action movies, so it was nice to see him play a romantic, somewhat comical lead. It reminded me a bit of Chevy’s role in Foul Play, in fact, or maybe something Ryan Reynolds would play nowadays. In fact, I think the story could make for a great US remake, casting some of the Apatow folks in the leads (Rudd in the Chow role, maybe Jonah Hill or Jay Baruchel as the realtor?). High concept, big laughs... hell, Judd’s crew supposedly wants to do Ghostbusters 3 - just do an update of this movie and spare yourself the expectations.

Oh, and I dunno if it was intentionally vague, or if I was just reading into it wrong, or maybe it was poor editing, but there’s a scene early on where the heroine hears some lovers arguing next door, concerning the male leaving his wife. It seems to me that she was hearing the ghosts of the dead folks, but if so, that’s never clarified. Subtlety in one of these movies? Never!

It certainly wasn’t present in the 2nd film, A Tale From The East, which was as batshit as they come. After an opening text crawl that rivaled Alone in the Dark’s in terms of being overly long and complicated (several cards went by before I even had time to read them in full), we are treated to a couple who are hosting a BBQ in the woods at night (?), and they stumble upon a guy who comes out of nowhere. Meanwhile, a pair of electricians see a guy eat another man’s head, fight him for a while, and then find a little girl, who they bring home and then serenade with a song about the costs of certain snack foods. See what I mean about the other movie being a lot easier to describe?

I dozed off and on through this one (damn you, Pabst!), but I got the jist of it. It was more action packed, for sure, but it felt a bit familiar, as if it were combining elements of Seeding and Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Great finale though - as our characters run around a water slide (both with and without water running) and toss mystical children around. And the film contained what could be the key line for every one of these things I have ever seen: after saying something about (food I think?), another character replies “Don’t just say things at random!”. Lady, saying (and doing) things at random is the very backbone of Hong Kong cinema!

Speaking of which, the trailer reel had a bunch of American trailers for Asian imports, such as Rumble in The Bronx, Operation Condor, Black Mask (“starring Lethal Weapon 4’s Jet Li!”) and The Killer. It’s a shame these films don’t get wide releases any more (even John Woo’s latest film, Red Cliff, only played in a handful of screens), but it’s an even bigger shame watching Jackie do his thing in these films, compared to the shit he does now like the recent Spy Next Door. I remember being blown away by his stuntwork in Rumble In The Bronx (my introduction to Hong Kong films, I believe - and hardly one of his best films, I now realize), but his subsequent American films (the Shanghai ones were the last straw for me) resulted in my not bothering to watch his stuff anymore. I gotta fix that, even if its just re-watching his American dubbed edits (I remember liking Operation Condor a lot). I don’t think I ever saw First Strike or that one where he was the cook. Maybe I can convince the New Bev to dig up the New Line/Dimension prints and show them sometime. Jackie in his prime cannot be contained on a TV set!

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