Encounters of a Spooky Kind was a highly successful blend of Kung Fu and comedy horror. It took HK $5,675,000 during a 16 week run in what was a quiet year for the Hong Kong box office; 1981 (it was released on 24/12/1980). This film was released after Sammo had worked on some of the all time great Kung Fu movies in the late seventies (Magnificent Butcher, Warriors 2 and The Victim) and it can be seen as a large departure from mainstream period Kung Fu. This film is an early and highly influential showing of the undead and Taoist mysticism in Kung Fu cinema. Later offerings include the huge grossing Mr Vampire and Ninja in the Dragon's Den.
Sammo is credited as the director and action choreographer for this movie, but both Lam Ching Ying and Yuen Biao also played their parts. The two main support characters are played by Chung Fa and Peter Chan Lung as the good and evil Taoist priests. Chung Fa's most memorable roles include the Cat fighter in Magnificent Butcher and the fortune teller in Buddhist Fist. Chan Lung has an equally impressive CV and along with Chung Fa did much work with Sammo and co. in the mid 80's (e.g. Heart of Dragon, Eastern Condors and Winners and Sinners).
Spooky ghouls with very long arms!!!
Sammo hangs high
The plot involves Courageous Chung (Sammo) suspecting his wife (Leung Suet-Moi) of having an affair. However, she is not having any old affair, but one with a powerful and rich individual, Master Tam (played by Huang Ha). The only clue Sammo has to work on is that the suspected individual left his shoe when leaving in haste. Huang Ha decides the safest thing to do is having Courageous Chung 'knocked off', so he hires Chin Hoi (Chan Lung) to kill him with Taoist mysticism.
Because Sammo is playing his cocky fool character (see also Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog and Warriors 2) he is wagered that he cannot spend the night in the temple and survive. Sammo agrees and on his way to the temple he encounters the good Taoist priest (Chung Fa), who warns him of the danger ahead. We then get to see Chan Lung using Taoism to summon a dead Manchu soldier (Yuen Biao cameo) inside the temple to life. Fortunately for Sammo he hides in the roofing and is saved by the sunlight sending the Manchu corpse back into its coffin.
Once Sammo leaves he is tricked (by Wu Ma) into staying for another night and again meets Chung Fa. This time Sammo is advised to buy 50 chicken eggs and some dog's blood. Unfortunately Sammo is conned and he is sold some duck eggs as well! This all eventually leads to the duck eggs not working on the Manchu officer and they have a good old brawl in the temple. Sammo just survives only to later be framed for killing his wife. He manages to escape from jail and is helped by Chung Fa who writes on him with red paint to negate the evil Taoist priest's powers, as they prepare to do battle with him.
The kung fu is very scattered throughout this movie and many scenes are too brief. It is a good while before the first fight really gets underway but it is quite amusing to see Sammo fighting a corpse. It is important to remember that Sammo was trying something different here and as much importance is put the Taoism as there is on the fight scenes. There is also a decapitation scene of a live chicken during the Taoist scenes so I would not recommend this to the squeamish or members of the RSPCA. The classic Sammo kicks in when Lam Ching Ying and his prison guards corner Sammo in a restaurant with Chung Fa. Behind the scenes Chan Lung is using a voodoo doll to paralyse parts of Sammo's body and this is executed with a good helping of slapstick and high quality sparring.
Chung Fa then goes to confront Chan Lung and they fight using their wooden swords, which is well performed and tightly choreographed. It is good to see a fight which is for supremacy rather than to the death and Chung Fa defeats Chan Lung on this occasion. Meanwhile, because the voodoo spell has been broken, Sammo can now kick butt and looks very sharp against the troops armed with swords. Sammo then pulls out the usual skills with the bench but sadly does not fight Lam Ching Ying properly and this is a real shame (Chung Fa uses Taoism to turn the prison guards on Lam Ching Ying).
Sammo + Bench + Prison Guards + Restaurant = Cool Fight
To skip to the end fight, both Taoist priests try to raise their altars as high as possible and start possessing people with spirits to fight for them. Sammo is possessed by a monkey fighter and he fights a Shaolin artist who is using a ring (a highly underused weapon in the movies, but see also Shaolin vs. Lama). This is very acrobatic and good value for money, those who have seen Knockabout will know how good Sammo's monkey style is. This is also a high impact fight with a few moments that make you wince and it is film's best moment. After this, Huang Ha is possessed by Chan Lung and starts fighting with a sword against Sammo's spear. Again this is excellent weapons work, quite a similar fight in style to Sammo's spear work in Warriors 2 and Iron Fisted Monk. The twist in this fight is that Chung Fa uses Taoism on the shoe of Huang Ha's to cripple him so Sammo can finish him off, and then Chan Lung is set on fire. It is not the best ending to a movie ever and the final twist is possibly unnecessary (but I won't spoil it!).
Chan Lung uses his Taoist powers
Sammo fights the Manchu corpse
Careful, you might get splinters
With scenes like this, it should be an 18!
Sammo takes on Master Tam
As you may have guessed, the HKL disc is superb in picture and sound. Bey Logan's audio commentary is up to his usual high standard and there are other goodies such as a restoration featurette, Sammo interview and the slightly irritating Animated Biography Showcase. Overall the disc is well presented and has a atmospheric menu.
This film cannot be faulted for its innovation, nor for the end fight. But it does struggle to captivate and possibly is over concerned with the Taoism aspect. It is certainly a seminal movie in the history of Hong Kong cinema but whether it is entirely successful is another matter. Sammo's character has the expected charm and screen presence but he was possibly lacking a true nemesis or adversary throughout? Chan Lung spends more time spitting chicken's blood into a bowl than fighting and the ageing Huang Ha is hardly in Sammo's league. Perhaps it was missing a Hwang Jang Lee, a Wang Lung Wei, a Fung Hark On, a Lee Hoi San, a Dick Wei or a Lo Lieh? They say that a kung fu movie is only as good as the bad guy, and although Sammo was trying to do something different, he may have overlooked this critical fact.