Some years seem less spirited when films released near Hungry Ghost Festival offer nothing new. In entertainment, producers aren’t obligated to make a film during this time, as we get to see them year-round. Now that we are a week into this event, it’s time to consider what is available to watch–a mix of old and new. In the past two years, Ghost Lab (Thailand), and Irul: Ghost Hotel (Malaysia) and Umma (Korean-American) are three works worth checking out. The links providedd here go to their respective trailers on YouTube.
I won’t say too much about them, as what I’d reveal would be laden with spoilers. They are worth the time to catch, and they certainly had me considering going to sleep with the lights on. Thankfully they have a State-side VOD/Streaming release. Ghost Lab and Umma are on Netflix, and Irul is on Amazon Prime USA.
To round out this spooky list of four titles to check out, what I offer is a fond look back at an old, underappreciated Stephen Chow film, Out of the Dark, which deals with problematic ghosts. I feel this film truely represents everything the Hungry Ghost Festival is all about–placating and respecting those entities said to wander our world. When these spirits are out for vengence, just what can mortals do to turn things around? In this film’s case, turn to Leon (Chow), and hope this “professional” can bust some ghosts! Unfortunately, he’s a few cards short of a full deck, and he’s not quite the expert everyone makes him out to be.
Here, Mr. Li (Chi-Fai Chow) is scared that his late mother (Suk-Mui Tam) will return to haunt him. She blames him for her death, and that’s everything someone hoping their elder’s spirit is at peace doesn’t want! Add on top Kwan (Karen Mok) and some inept security guards who hire Leon to deal with this haunting, and everything that goes wrong will!
That also includes a whacked out mystery which gets solved quite easily. Li and wife admit to the crime, but before they can be apprehended, Leon’s inept ability to catch them goes horribly wrong. They leap off the high rise and die. And because they’re wearing red, they’re doomed to Hell. That is, their souls aren’t at rest and they soon will return as poltergeists to wreck their revenge on Leon and his “apprentices.” If they are to survive, they’ll have to get through Leon’s boot camp on how to fight the paranormal.
This horror comedy is said to be one of this filmmaker’s darkest works, and upon re-watching it, I can agree where the graphic violence is considered too much. But we have to remember he’s known for injecting crazy Wile E. Coyote harm to his characters; watch enough of his works, namely Kung Fu Hustle, and you’ll see the same thing repeated time and time again. Sometimes, I have to wonder how many sets of buck teeth he has to wear for the various characters he’s played over the years.
What makes this film ideal during Hungry Ghost Festival is that it’s about giving the ghost some peace of mind. But someone in Li’s family didn’t respect this elder. Although the attempts to exorcise are initially in vain, to see Leon train his crew of misfits highlights everything this filmmaker is known for. His absurdist humour is very much inspired by cartoons, and to see Leon survive dynamite explosions demonstrates it!
To enjoy the craziness this film extols really means suspending disbelief. It isn’t as perfect as his films made this century, where he got a budget to fully realise his crazy visions, but for the era it was made in, at least it won’t fade away. Fans of this filmmaker will want a copy to own in their library.