Director – Wu Ma – 1982 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 99m
A couple planning an inheritance swindle convince their victim to play along then kill him, after which he comes back as a ghost to take revenge – classic and seminal HK kung fu comedy is out on UK Blu-ray in a 2K restoration.
Made three years ahead of Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985), this puts all the elements of that film in place, apart from the vampires. Actually, they’re not so much vampires as hopping ghosts (jiangshi). There’s no hopping in The Dead And The Deadly, but there are ghosts.
Chu (Sammo Hung) becomes suspicious when best friend Ma Lucho (Wu Ma) dies, suspecting Mrs. Ma (Leung Mei Hei) and her priest companion (Chung Fat) of poisoning him. As becomes clear from an early scene in a brothel, Ma is not gifted with women, so Chu is surprised that his surviving wife is pregnant. What he hasn’t realised is that Ma is actually in on the scam and is only pretending to be dead.
But that changes about an hour in when Ma’s two co-conspirators kill him for real to get his money, as Mrs. Ma is carrying his rightful heir. At this point, Ma returns as a ghost and, in order to exact revenge, has old Taoist priest Yee (Lam Ching-ying) transfer his essence into Chu’s body, causing Chu to temporarily become a ghost.
When that goes wrong, Chu is threatened with permanently becoming a ghost – unless the one person prepared to sacrifice themselves to save him – the girl he loves Miss Yuen (Cherie Cheung) – can save him.
Both when masquerading as a corpse and when dead, Wu Ma wears the costume later associated with the eponymous Mr. Vampire, with a written paper spell fixed to his forehead to stop him wandering off. This is never explained, or even used very much, but if you’ve seen Mr. Vampire, you’ll know exactly what it is.
As the Taoist priest, Lam Ching-ying performs his trademark sword whirling and hand interlocking rituals which would figure so heavily in the Mr. Vampire films. Here, though,they’re not really used for fighting off the undead as they will be in those films. Also, he plays quite an old priest here, whereas in later films he plays the priest as a much younger man. This gives rise to a great scene where he’s carried through the streets by two invisible ghosts.
There’s also a lot of impressive stunt work involving flying on wires and much somersaulting, plus some simplistic and sometimes crude physical comedy which is fun to watch if you can get on its wavelength. A unique and highly entertaining slice of classic Hong Kong cinema.
The Dead And The Deadly is out on UK Blu-ray in a 2K restoration.