Director – Wong Hoi – 2022 – Hong Kong – 100m
Three unlikely ghost stories from Hong Kong: an actor shoots a ghost scene with a real ghost, a young man’s girlfriend is possessed by a ‘horny ghost’, and a sweet romance develops as a cute little girl haunts a shopping mall – plays at the NFT on Friday, July 14th at 8.30pm as part of Focus Hong Kong 2023 at BFI Southbank which runs from Wednesday, July 12th to Saturday, July 15th
A ghost story shot anywhere else would probably set out to scare and unsettle, but in Hong Kong they have never hesitated to mix up their horror with other, seemingly incompatible genres. The first entry in this compendium of three ghost stories plays with notions of truth, reality and artifice through the time worn device of a film within the film, the second is a lightweight, gender-fluid, sex comedy while the third is a sentimental tale about a cute child and the passing of the era of the 1990s shopping mall.
In the first story, Scary Prison, a real ghost gets involved in the shooting of a TV series episode involving a ghost. The series is The Incarcerated Detective, set in a prison where the eponymous policeman investigates and apprehends evildoers among the inmates with his catchphrase, “Justice… always stands on the side of… Justice.” Following a drunken meal with a director and a producer, the actor playing this character, Lok (Ling Man Lung), must drive to a night shoot for the series.
Everywhere he goes, people recognise him and want to hear him deliver his catchphrase. Even a traffic cop (Ken Law Ho-Ming) who stops him for what we presume is drunk driving simply wants to hear the catchphrase. Eventually he gets away, but his car accidentally hits a woman on a country road, so he drags body, bleeding around the neck, into the undergrowth to hide it.
On arrival at the shoot, it turns out that the actress playing the ghost Si Si (Sham Ka-ki) is the woman he hit; however, she’s turned up on schedule and is now playing the part of a ghost as a real ghost. It’s a clever conceit, arguably even a postmodern one, and as a half hour episode doesn’t outstay its welcome.
In the second story, Scary Industrial Building, a taxi driver Kwan (So Chi-ho) objects to a man he thinks is eyeing him up in a public lavatory (Ng Cheuk Fai), and is later berated as a homophobe by a passer-by to whom he attempts to explain the incident. Later, he listens to his girlfriend (Ashina Kwok) as she rides in his vehicle with two other girls (Leanne Lee and Wayii Cheng) discussing the delights of expensive staycations. Convincing himself that taking her to such a place would revitalise their near defunct sex life, he rents a cheap room in a building in a run-down area and does up the interior, unaware that something lurks within the downmarket, home-assembled cupboard in the room.
When Kwan gets his girlfriend there, she’s unimpressed and about to leave when, after strange noises emanating from the cupboard, she has a change of heart and initiates repetitive, athletic sex with the delighted Khan. Except, as it later transpires, she’s not now his girlfriend at all, but rather a ‘horny ghost’ who, as a colleague at the taxi rank warns him, is likely to suck him dry. This follows Hong Kong’s cinematic tradition of the ‘pretty female ghost’ crystallised in A Chinese Ghost Story (Ching Siu-tung, 1987), with that film’s period settings here jettisoned for a contemporary urban Hong Kong environment.
The overall mood is lightweight and silly, with humour generated by the ghost’s beating on the inside of the cupboard causing the item of furniture to squash and stretch in the manner of traditional drawn effects animation (although CGI has clearly been used) and by the ghost’s unexpected use of its tongue which is about ten feet long. A brief moment of gender-fluid revelation as his savvy colleague attempts to exorcise the ghost from his girlfriend recalls the homophobic opening and begs questions as to what the episode was actually about.
In the third story, Scary Shopping Centre, Fong (Lam Chin-ting) who runs a shop in a mall remembers the small girl ghost Kat (Cyrus Cheung) with whom she used to play when left alone in the mall by her mum (Candice Yu On On). Although Kat is capable of scaring strangers, to Fong she was simply a childhood companion of her own age. As an adult, she’s not seen Kat for twenty years.
However, with all the current tenant shopkeepers on the verge of being turfed out when their leases expire in a month, Kat appears again to bailiffs, security guards and (in the final minutes) an exorcist as they try to dispose of the child ghost, so the building will be free of her as well as the tenants. The tenants, meanwhile, who include Edward (Locker Lam), who is rather keen on Fong, are concerned about what will happen to the little ghost girl, and attempt to find a suitable set of young parents-to-be for her to adopt.
The whole anthology is more enjoyable than it is scary, and while it never quite rises to the demented knockabout kung fu comic heights of Hong Kong classics A Chinese Ghost Story or Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985), it’s nevertheless a lot of fun.
Let it Ghost plays at the NFT on Friday, July 14th at 8.30pm, as part of Focus Hong Kong 2023 at BFI Southbank which runs from Wednesday, July 12th to Saturday, July 15th info here.