Dave Foster has reviewed the Region 2/4 release of Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Here is the second review in my Sammo Hung Hong Kong Legends double bill. Encounters of the Spooky Kind is a superb traditional style Martial Arts Action movie that mixes in some Evil Dead style horror and comedy to create something that is quite unique (or at least it was until the many imitations arrived) in the world of Martial Arts cinema.
Probably best described as Evil Dead 2 fused with Hong Kong style Martial Arts Encounters of the Spooky Kind (EotSK from here on in) kick-started a whole new genre back in 1980 when Sammo Hung unleashed his latest Directorial effort on the Asian market to universal acclaim and great success. Combining low budget, but highly effective special effects to create vampires of the ilk many a western audience will have never seen before Sammo wove a charming story around the horror setting, added his innovative style of Martial Arts choreography for a little extra spice and of course took his own unique brand of comedy to the fore and created what is still today a thoroughly enjoyable Horror Martial Arts Comedy!
Taking place during a Ghost Festival Sammo plays the self-titled bravest man in town, ‘Brave Cheung’ who, while not the brightest person in the world does possess an amazing Martial Arts ability and a strong sense of honour. To uphold his status as the bravest man in town and to preserve his honour he simply cannot say no to a challenge and as we see from the start he gets himself into all kinds of strange situations because of this. When he discovers that his wife is cheating on him Cheung is on the prowl to track down his wife’s newfound playmate that just happens to be Master Tam, a man of high stature who Cheung works for. When Master Tam learns that Cheung is on his trail he orders his right-hand man to dispose of him. Daring Cheung to sleep in a haunted temple Master Tam has hired a Sorcerer who can invoke all kinds of evil spirits to make attempts on Cheung’s life but thanks to his superb Martial Arts skills and the help of the Sorcerers brother (who does not condone the use of sorcery for evil deeds) Cheung survives and eventually tracks down Master Tam for a final showdown between both the sorcerers and Sammo and Master Tam who are possessed by spirits for a bout of outstanding Ghost Boxing!
Essentially what we have here is a fun story that provides plenty of laughs along the way thanks to the excellent performances from both Sammo Hung and the two sorcerers (Chan Long and Chong Fatt) while we are also treated to several superb displays of martial arts ability including some quite unique fights with a variety of dead characters! The finale in particular contains some jaw-dropping displays from Sammo who uses the pole like no other while his opponent, Master Tam (played by Ha Wong) also looks superb when using the sword meaning they offer up a stunning weapons based fight. If I had any complaints about the film then it would be that despite the many laugh out loud moments, the superb Martial Arts on display and the excellent story it does tends to bob along at a quite leisurely pace that can sometimes result in a loss of attention from the viewer.
This DVD is coded for both Regions 2 & 4.
Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen and maintaining the original 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio this Hong Kong Legends release looks absolutely gorgeous and is another landmark title in terms of sheer quality for such an old film. Originally released back in 1980 you would expect to see at least one occasion where there are noticeable signs of dirt, tearing or some other form of print damage but there is literally nothing at all to be seen throughout the entire 98-minute running time! Grain is kept to a bare minimum (to a point where you will barely notice it except for bright scenes) while detail and shadow levels are exceptionally high for a film of this vintage. Colours are rendered with stunning clarity while the oh so crucial black levels (especially in a film which consists mostly of dark scenes) are handled with care so as to create a transfer that really is up there with the best of HKLs work.
Strangely this release does not feature remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks for the English and Cantonese Language tracks so instead we are simply provided with DD2.0 renditions. For myself this is not a problem as like many HKL titles these films were released with not so much as a thought of DD5.1 Audio (and in the case of EotSK, DD5.1 did not even exist!) and for the most part HKL remixes make sparse use of the 5.1 soundstage (again, this is preferable to a poorly mixed DD5.1 track that makes pointless use of the soundstage like so many R0 Hong Kong discs do) so a DD2.0 track that is clear with decent separation between the front speakers is enough, and that is exactly what HKL have provided in both the English and Cantonese DD2.0 tracks present on this release. The English and Dutch subtitles are, as is to be expected, of a very high standard.
Sharing a common set of Extra Features with the other Sammo title released in October/November (Iron Fisted Monk) EotSK sadly shares in the same disappointments and only comes away with one unique extra that is worthy of your complete attention. The extra feature in question is of course another superb Audio Commentary from Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan that, despite Sammo’s absence (as he could not make the recording session due to the September 11th events in New York) is yet again a joy to listen to as he offers up a vast array of information on the secondary actors (he leaves the Sammo story, quite rightly, to the rest of the discs offerings) along with the occasional anecdote but most interesting of all is the knowledge he imparts relating to Chinese Mythology and culture, that, while not extensive (as he himself admits) or essential to understand or enjoy the film does make it all the more interesting on subsequent viewings. Other nuggets of wisdom passed on would be the recommendations of several of the classic Shaw Brothers films along with the mention of a Michelle Yeoh workout video he was working on that I am sure would interest many of the target audience for this film!
Moving on to the Sammo Hung Animated Biography we are yet again only offered Part 1 that has already featured on previous HKL Sammo Hung titles and despite past promises that we would see Part 2 on this release we will simply have to wait a little longer. Some changes have however been made for this release. Anyone familiar with the recent Jackie Chan titles will have seen the new Animated Biographies that maintain the same voice-over but in place of the scrolling text we are treated to a montage of film clips from the actors career that when appropriate match the film that is being discussed in the biography. Fortunately for HKL it is these clips that partially redeems there shortcomings as by giving us a glimpse of what is to come from HKL next year in the Sammo Hung range certainly offers up much enjoyment but is far from being a substitute for Part 2 of the Sammo Hung Biography!
The standard inclusion of a Photo Gallery that only includes stills from the film is nothing new (although the presentation is far better than usual with full unobstructed visuals) while the ‘Trailer Gallery’ section is looking to become a common feature for the bigger stars and directors that have featured so far in the HKL range. Here we find the HKL Promotional Trailer and the Original Theatrical Trailer for EotSK, both are presented in 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. Moving on a screen you can choose to watch the HKL Promotional Trailers for two other Sammo Hung titles, the excellent Iron Fisted Monk and Magnificent Butcher titles.
The ‘Features Archive’ features a 10-minute Sammo Hung Interview that unlike the Iron Fisted Monk disc that contained Sammo’s views specifically for that film this disc receives the same interview that has been featured on most of HKLs Sammo Hung discs where he tells the story of his life through his own words. There is mention of his work with Yuen Biao and more specific to this film, Lam Ching-Ying but a couple of minutes of unique footage is disappointing to say the least. The final extra feature is the ‘Restoration Featurette’ that debuted on the Iron Fisted Monk release (for a more detailed look at my thoughts on this piece please see that review) and is looking to become a likely candidate for inclusion on any of the less than packed HKL releases. Sadly this featurette is not something you will watch more than once (except for the odd glimpse of forthcoming titles) due to the lack of any truly interesting information and as such its inclusion is only of use to those who do not already own a HKL disc with this extra feature included.
For any fans of Sammo Hung and indeed Hong Kong Cinema this is a must see film as it combines many of the greatest elements of Hong Kong Action Cinema into an interesting package that will entertain you again and again. While this disc is particularly disappointing in terms of extra features (apart from the essential Audio Commentary from Bey Logan) HKL have once again raised the bar in terms of restoration work by putting out one of their best discs in terms of picture quality for a film that is now 21 years old!
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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