Horror comedies have always been popular in Hong Kong cinema, and the sub genre has produced a number of classic films such as Sammo Hung’s “Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind” and the enduring “Mr. Vampire” series. These films have a uniquely Asian feel to them, combining traditional Eastern mysticism and treatments of the supernatural that are quite different from their Western counterparts. “Last Ghost Standing”, a more recent stab at combining chills with laughs, is a very different animal which proudly pays homage to a number of Hollywood and European horrors, whilst throwing in some typically wacky Hong Kong humour and filmic references.
In this case, ‘homage’ is possibly too kind a word, as even casual fans of the horror genre will recognise a number of scenes which have been liberally pilfered, most notably from Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2″. Although by no means an entirely successful film, and despite the lack of originality, “Last Ghost Standing” has enough imagination and charm to provide an entertaining diversion which genre fans should find enjoyable, if not particularly memorable.
The film is set in 1999, on the eve of the new millennium and during the last performance in an old, run down cinema which is just about to close, and whose address just happens to be ’666 King’s Road’. The plot begins as cinema worker Yeung (Simon Lui, long time star of the neverending “Troublesome Night” series, and the writer of the book upon which “Last Ghost Standing” is based) arrives at work with his girlfriend Yiu Yiu (Sherming Yiu, another “Troublesome Night” veteran). Although the couple seems to have a happy relationship, Yiu is troubled by her man’s inability to express his love, a fact seized upon by a bizarre stranger (Francis Ng) who mysteriously appears next to her in the deserted auditorium.
The stranger turns out to be none other than Satan himself (as indicated by his use of black eye liner, apparently), who decides to test Yeung’s love for Yiu through the logical route of possessing her, tearing her head off and reanimating it, then setting loose a variety of odd ghouls in the cinema where Yeung works. As the monsters rampage, Yeung fights to save his beloved whilst a motley group of bystanders try to survive the horrible haunting.
“Last Ghost Standing” was directed by Billy Chung, who has been responsible for a number of perfectly reasonable genre films such as “Shiver” and “Devil Face, Angel Heart”. Here, Chung goes for the tried and tested approach of bombarding the audience with gags and special effects in a bid to distract them from the fact that the film has virtually no plot to speak of. In this, he is generally successful, and the film works well enough as a series of barely connected set pieces hastily dragged together for the expected over the top finale.
Chung lifts many of “Last Ghost Standing’s” scenes from other films, often without any effort to disguise his thievery. For example, we have a long sequence where one character’s hand is possessed, causing it to attack its owner by smashing plates and bottles over his head, before the owner can saw the runaway hand off at the wrist. Sound familiar? Actually, the whole plot of “Ghost” is basically lifted from Lamberto Bava’s Italian gore classic, “Demons”, right down to the intruding bunch of streetwise goons (whose number includes the delectable Pinky Cheung, star of “Devil Touch”).
To be fair to Chung, he directs with a certain amount of enthusiasm, if not flair, and although he relies too much on the use of sped up footage, he does manage a certain amount of atmosphere and energy. There are a few scenes which boast a weird kind of originality, including some involving a strange elephant like creature which emerges from a toilet and chases some reefer fiends. These scenes, whilst not too frequent, do give the film a boost, and at least some sense of individuality.
Of course, films like “Last Ghost Standing” sink or swim according to how good or bad their jokes are, and fortunately in this case there are more hits than misses. The humour is strictly of a sophomoric level, though cheerfully so, and with a manic edge of Hong Kong zaniness that will endear it to fans of the form. There are some genuinely funny scenes, including a nice parody of Jackie Chan, complete with oversized fake nose and dodgy platitudes.
The film is not particularly heavy in the horror or gore departments, and although there are a good number of creatures on display, the effects could be charitably described as being of varying quality. The production budget was obviously quite low, and as a result a number of the costumes and puppets are laughably bad. However, these are thrown at the viewer in such a kinetic manner that such shortcomings are relatively easy to forgive, and if nothing else, they certainly prevent the film from ever becoming dull. The same is true of the poverty row look to the sets, costumes, and virtually every aspect of the film, which in fact add to the shabby charm and endearing feel of the whole affair.
This review may sound like a warning to some viewers, which is understandable, for “Last Ghost Standing” is a disposable film with undeniably low ambitions. However, this fact in no way prevents the movie from being enjoyable, amusing and one of the better horror comedies from Hong Kong in the last few years.
Siu Hung Cheung (director)
CAST: Simon Loui …. Yeung-Yeung
Sherming Yiu …. Yiu-Yiu
Yiu-Cheung Lai …. Cheung
Francis Ng …. Satan
Pinky Cheung …. Pinky