Spooky Encounters: A Gwailo's Guide to Hong Kong Horror

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9781900486316: Spooky Encounters: A Gwailo's Guide to Hong Kong Horror

Hopping vampires, seductive spirits and giant predatory tongues! Tsui Hark's A Chinese Ghost Story in 1987 gave many Western viewers their first taste of supernatural thrills, Oriental style. Yet the film was a comparatively late entry in a well-established genre. From Sammo Hung's Spooky Encounters to King Hu's valedictory Painted Skin, the 1980s Hong Kong ghost film cycle produced a stylish and distinctive body of work that compares with the best of Universal and Hammer.

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Welcome to the strange and wonderful world of Hong Kong horror movies, filled to bursting with flying ghosts, hopping vampires, seductive spirits, tree demons, evil sorcerers, living skeletons, possessed limbs and giant predatory tongues. Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story in 1987 gave many Western viewers their first taste of supernatural thrills — Oriental style — yet the film was a comparatively late entry in a well-established genre. From Sammo Hung’s ground-breaking Spooky Encounters to King Hu’s valedictory Painted Skin, the 1980s Hong Kong ghost film cycle produced a stylish and distinctive body of work that compares with the best of Universal and Hammer. According to the standard version of events, Hong Kong cinema during the late 1970s amounted to little more than a series of tired Bruce Lee rip-offs. The posthumous release of Game of Death, which blended unused Lee footage with unconvincing ‘doubles’, merely underlined the film industry’s creative bankruptcy. Like most established movie lore, this bleak scenario doesn’t tell the full story by any means. For example, veteran stuntman, fight choreographer and supporting actor Sammo Hung had recently emerged as both a major star and a gifted, imaginative director. While most of his early work followed the standard formula of righteous kung fu vengeance, Hung was clearly a film-maker to watch. On the lookout for new material, Sammo Hung decided to blend supernatural elements with the usual high-impact martial arts and broad humour. The end result, Spooky Encounters, or Encounter of the Spooky Kind, proved a runaway success, creating a new genre: the kung fu ghost comedy. Around the same time, Hong Kong’s thriving television industry produced such notable ‘New Wave’ talents as Ann Hui and Tsui Hark, who’d both make major contributions to the ghost movie cycle. Leading action directors John Woo, Ronny Yu and Ringo Lam all worked on horror films early in their careers. Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat romanced witches, fought demons and blew up monsters before he ever donned dark glasses and a trenchcoat. Five years on from Spooky Encounters, Sammo Hung produced Mr Vampire, arguably his greatest contribution to the genre. Along with Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story, another major hit, Mr Vampire’s far-reaching success kept the spooky movie alive until the early 1990s. While the Hong Kong film industry still turns out horror movies on a regular basis, the great days of the ghost genre are long gone. Shifting audience tastes, industry crises, creative exhaustion and a talent exodus to the United States all played a part in this decline. The genre rarely attracts major film-makers now, mostly operating at the extreme low budget end of the industry. The Troublesome Night series, which currently stands at eighteen entries, is more notable for its survival in the face of meagre box-office returns than for the intrinsic quality of the films. On the bright side, the critical and commercial success of Ann Hui’s Visible Secret and the Pang Brothers’ The Eye suggests that the Hong Kong ghost genre may become fashionable again.

Review:

Very informative and well-researched... a breakthrough work on this underrated genre -- Bey Logan, author, HK cinema expert, film producer and writer

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