Tuesday, June 16, 2009

183) Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

183) Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) Dir: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 15th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

The omnipresent perspiration on Sammo Hung Kam-Bo's face in Encounters of the Spooky Kind are a testament to just how hard the man worked at switching between the various different hats he wore during the making of the film. As the film's star/choreographer/co-writer/director, Hung whirls about at the speed of sweat, carrying the film from its infrequent dips to its numerous highs and back, ending on a hilariously wrong high note (warning: don't cheat on Sammo). Though he wisely features the skill and talent of his co-stars with fight scenes that showcase their own athletic ability and comic timing, when the camera's off him, the film almost visibly slows down. Through his perfection of the happy-go-lucky persona colleague and childhood friend Jackie Chan made a career out of, he delivers in spurts and sprints a delirious kind of physical comedy that celebrates the unwittingly brave loser.

Hung plays "Courageous" Cheung, an oblivious slob too chicken to turn down a challenge to his honor, forcing him to stay in a haunted temple for a night. When he accepts the dare, deceptively handed down by a crony of the black magician hired to kill him, Cheung is not just defending his reputation as a brave guy, he's also doing it out of a weird fear that he's going to be called out on his cheapness if he backs out--"Ten taels?" he wails, as if thinking about that chunk of silver caused the amount to leave his already turned-out pockets. Worse still, he's so wrapped up in defending his ego that he doesn't even see the connection between the challenge and his adulterous wife, whose lover hired the black magician.

The big joke of the film is that Cheung is hardly ever really "courageous" but rather just accidentally adept at tucking his tail between his legs and running. The scene where he flees at a breakneck pace from a corpse that plays the old mirror gag that Groucho, Harpo and Lucille Ball perfected on him is wonderful because he doesn't even see that he's running into the waiting arms of the police that are chasing him (did I mention that he's been framed by his wife's lover for her "death?"). The man cannot catch a break even when he's handily defending himself, frantically ducking and weaving the blows of a hopping corpse during his second night at the temple--he's too dazed to say no when the stakes to 50 taels of silver for a second night.

The crowning achievement on Hung's manic performance however is largely thanks to his pronounced gut. While it may seem crass to say that his love handles makes him funnier, the simple truth is that his insatiable appetite really does make him a near-perfect fall guy. After an altercation at a foodstand breaks out between the vendor and his wife, Cheung continues to shovel food in his face after his friends have already hightailed it away. He has no self-restraint and hence no way to know how to act, making his style of cluelessly bumbling about a distinct comic fingerprint.

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