The Occupant (1984)

Directed by: Ronny Yu
Written by: Edward Lee
Producers: Karl Maka, Dean Shek, Raymond Wong & Teddy Robin
Starring: Raymond Wong, Sally Yeh, Chow Yun-Fat, Mak Git Man & Lo Lieh

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Ghost-comedies became popular in Hong Kong during the 80s thanks to such influential movies like Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (which also added martial arts). For his fifth directed film, Ronny Yu decided to cash in the markets demands by making his own gwai-(meaning ghost) movie. It turned out to be fairly successful also, earning 11 million Hong Kong dollars at the box office.

Angie (Sally Yeh - Chow Yun Fat's costar in The Killer) is a canadian citizen arriving in Hong Kong to do research in chinese superstition. Staying at the YMCA turns out to be too expensive but with the help of obnoxious Hansom Wong (played by the not so handsome Raymond Wong) she finds a cheap apartment to stay at. Hansom is one of those superstitious chinese and he believes the apartment to be haunted because of it being vacant for so long. After overstaying his visit one night he encounters the spirit and gets thrown out of the window onto a parked police car. The CIA detective Valentino (Chow Yun-Fat) is the one investigating that and after witnessing Hansom being thrown out a second time by an invisible force, he becomes part of this trio and their investigation into who or what is residing in the shadows...

What surprised me a little about Ronny's film is that he distinctively divided the comedy and the horror of The Occupant. The comedy in the beginning mostly involves Hansom constantly staging excuses in order to spend more time with Angie, preferable in bed. When Valentino permanently enters the frey, the banter and civilized fights over Angie dominates this aspect of the film. I will go over the horror in a bit but the same things can be said about that and the humour. They're neither original, groundbreaking or terrible funny/scary but mostly thanks to decent chemistry between the stars, it all becomes rather amusing.

Then there's the ghost part of the story that doesn't revolutionize the genre but it's played almost totally serious for a change. Ronny knows some of the old tricks could make the audience uncomfortable and he pulls out some of them at appropriate times. Therefore there are scenes where people appears in the shadows, appears unexpectedly and the startling music cues are also allowed to breathe. It's not very scary really but works for the moment and creates a little atmosphere at least. The story involves us enough and these 'scares' work better than they would, had we not been involved. The presence of the caretaker Ah Poon is the only thing that comes close to being creepy, mostly thanks to this elderly actors (sorry, don't know his name) empty face expression.

As a production The Occupant doesn't look better or worse than any other movie made at that time in Hong Kong. Ronny does some shooting on the streets, which doesn't lend itself to great visuals but even interiors are rather flat and boring (probably not constructed sets so I partly blame the tennants). The director does try to create a few sequences that visually stands out slightly compared to other productions but this is no The Phantom Lover or The Bride With White Hair. Even IF Peter Pau had lensed The Occupant, it wouldn't have looked very different I think.

In many Hong Kong movies featuring ghosts or supernatural beings there's sometimes a rather likeable energy and entertainment that's born out of budget limitations. The filmmakers often go all out and do the effects despite them looking bad, stupid or incredibly hokey, a daring thing in my opinion. I don't think the cinema audience cared that much because they knew about it and no one really thought movies like this would be seen outside of Asia. There are people that then have laughed at Hong Kong movies but I respect and admire what they create with what they have. One example in The Occupant is a short animated effect that sure doesn't blend very well but works very well if your mind is correctly set.

Another fun thing to watch is the main trio of actors, namely Sally Yeh, Raymond Wong and Chow Yun-Fat. I won't waste paragraphs detailing their performances because this film doesn't allow for award winning acting. I do have to mention Raymond Wong and the persistence of his character. No matter how hard we try to hate him, he wins us over in the end. Chow Yun-Fat has made his share of bad movies and while The Occupant can be viewed as one, I don't think he should be ashamed of his acting in this. Looking back at this 1984 movie, it's clear that Chow Yun-Fat had a charisma that was way above anyone else involved but I wonder how evident that was to Hong Kong audiences back then. Lo Lieh (from Kingboxer a.k.a Five Fingers Of Death) and Melvin Wong (from Righting Wrongs) appears in supporting roles as well.

The Occupant will never be considered among Ronny Yu's best work but for fans it's fun to watch how far he had progressed as a director. The movie offers a fair amount of comedy as well as the equal level in terms of horror.

The DVD:

Universe has done good work on this older movie. The print seems a bit wider than 1.85:1 but looks pretty damn good throughout. Colors are strong and only light speckling and grain can be seen.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix was actually much better than I thought initially. The original mono sources aren't overly evident in the mix and effects plus music are nicely placed in all channels. Dialogue is always clear except for some moments around the 56 minute mark where the voice track gets pretty distorted. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles feature very few errors and if these are copies of the original cinema subs, then they were pretty good. If Universe sat down and redid the subtitles then I say job well done! It's not complex dialogue but it seems well translated. Japanese, Korean, French, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras consist of Star's Files for Chow Yun-Fat, Sally Yeh and Ronny Yu. The actor's files are a little better than usual here. Also trailers for The Occupant, The Greatest Lover, Diary Of A Big Man and The Fun, The Luck and The Tycoon appear.

Btw, it's not an extra but make sure you stay until the very end of the movie. Underneath the end credits you'll see some behind the scenes pics of Ronny Yu and his crew at work.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson