The Haunted Cop Shop (1987)

Directed by: Jeff Lau
Written by: Jeff Lau & Wong Kar-Wai
Producer:: Rover Tang
Starring: Jacky Cheung, Ricky Hui, Billy Lau, Woo Fung & Chong Fat

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It's the day of the annual Festival Of Hungry Ghosts and Police Cheif Shun (Woo Fung from Red Wolf) gets a visit from a former officer (who is now a monk) who brings with him a warning. He tells Shun that if a woman in pink shows up at the station (that used to be a clubhouse for Japanese soldiers), there will be consequences, unless necessary precautions are taken. Shun shrugs off the warning and decides to go on with police business as usual. The same night the two laid back cops Mackey Kim (Jacky Cheung from Bullet In The Head) and Chiu Man (Ricky Hui from Mr. Vampire) arrests petty thief Sneaky Ming (Billy Lau from Miracles) and throws him in jail. Soon the woman in pink shows herself to Sneaky Ming and leads him into the clubhouse that was, for a lethal game of mahjong. Of course his opponents are spirits and with them they bring General Issey, a bloodthirsty vampire. This is just the beginning of the troubles for Sneaky Ming and not to mention Mackey Kim and Chiu Man...

I wasn't expecting much from Jeff Lau's (director of Chinese Odyssey 2002) 1987 movie. I'd heard beforehand that it was suppose to be a fairly entertaining Hong Kong horror comedy and that description fit well except one was a very entertaining Hong Kong horror comedy! Don't expect a difficult film though despite acclaimed director Wong Kar-Wai's screen writing credit. This is probably a film that wouldn't even have existed if Encounters Of The Spooky Kind or Mr. Vampire hadn't been made but having said that really none of the prominent elements from those movies have been lifted into this one (no hopping vampires for example). So The Haunted Cop Shop actually stands well on its own two feet as a movie.

The emphasis is on the comedy (what else with Ricky Hui in a starring role?) and generally I'm not too much in love with the kind of humour sometimes present in Hong Kong movies but here Jeff Lau manages to put in some genuinely funny and silly moments. It helps that pretty much all the humour is visual and that creates highlights such as our main characters imitating vampires to get out of a tight spot. Simple but very amusing.

The horror can almost be divided into two parts, one that consciously is geared more towards the humour but there are also scenes that are pretty tense and atmospheric. Lau's very non-stylish way of directing helps create a wonderful mood where certain viewers will most certainly be slightly on the edge of their seat. Examples of scenes that creates this is Billy Lau's mentioned visit to the clubhouse and Ricky Hui trying to grab a key off the bed where a vampire is strapped down. I was pleasantly surprised that it did combine these two horror aspects and it wasn't something I expected to say the least. Pretty much during the second half though the filmmakers choose to go with the horror-comedy which works quite well but I could've done without the dog scene which is to me too disgusting to even talk about. Expect the unexpected is a movie title but also an expression that can be applied to Hong Kong movies in many cases.

But going back to Jeff Lau, I was also surprised by his directing style, which isn't really a style at all. I haven't seen Chinese Odyssey 2002 so I can't comment on how he has progressed as a director, but it's obvious that he is very professional and talented at what he does. Maybe it doesn't take a huge amount of talent to make a light and hokey film like this but the fact that you do get good work behind the camera helps this movie quite a bit. The camerawork is rarely very intricate and it's pretty much a straight forward way of doing it that Jeff chooses. Everything is clear and the plot advances at a quick pace and 91 minutes later we've not been bored or restless.

Technically the special effects are neither below or above the standard for horror movies of this era in Hong Kong. Some of the makeup effects are crude but also fairly effective for certain moments in the film. The little gore there is also well enough done within the framework of the kind of movie The Haunted Cop Shop is. I do need to mention that our main vampire villain is probably the least scary due to his HAIR of all things. One wonders if General Issey had a barber shop on the side and why the make up people felt the need to make him so well cut is a question you could debate with your friends after the movie (and a few beers).

Jacky Cheung, in my opinion, put in his best performance in my favourite Hong Kong film of all time, Bullet In The Head. That was of course a gritty and emotional action-drama so it's unfair to compare his role there to this film. He fits in The Haunted Cop Shop but at this time, he didn't seem completely immersed in the acting world. His chemistry with Ricky Hui isn't classic but together they do create some of the best laugh out loud moments in the film. I had really only seen Ricky Hui in Mr. Vampire and he more or less continues his way of acting here. He has a few funny moments but he didn't look as inspired as in the above mentioned film. A bit of a thankless aspect of his character is his obsession with sex but that kind of trait isn't something new to Hong Kong movies really. Anything with Wong Jing's name on it will probably feature a character or two like that.

Encounters Of The Spooky Kind's Chong Fat makes a very nice cameo and it's basically the same character he plays here. He's quickly in and out of the picture but he gets to show off his martial arts skills in a short but decent choreographed action scene. Quite fun and another aspect that made the entertainment factor rise. The action other than that is basically our main characters being hunted and battling with the vampire. It's nothing that needs choreography as such but it's mostly fun and the climax is exciting enough.

That also sums up my feelings about The Haunted Cop Shop. Jeff Lau has made a fun, sometimes scary and very entertaining horror- comedy but don't expect any huge surprises though.

The DVD:

The Media Asia dvd is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and what I saw was at first quite amazing. This is a pretty sharp and detailed transfer for its age but it was let down by many scenes with print damage. Also it was too dark during some of the night scenes.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very centered and only breaks loose one or two times during some of the action bits. 90% of the time it did still feel like the original mono mix, which is a very good thing.

The English subtitles are what you expect from most Hong Kong dvd's. They do the job and throws in some mildly amusing errors at times. Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Nothing substantial in the way of extras except for a plot synopsis, cast & crew listing and a trailer gallery consisting of the theatrical trailer for this movie, A Bite Of Love and Media Asia's dvd trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson