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Originally released back in 1990 when the Hong Kong ghost comedy was enjoying somewhat of a resurgence, “Till Death Shall we Start” joined the ranks of films with suspiciously familiar sounding titles, including the likes of “Till Death do we Scare” and “Till Death do us Laugh”. The film was directed by none other than Ricky Lau, who had been responsible for one of the genre’s very best and biggest hits in the form of the immortal “Mr Vampire”. Here, he teams with two of the period’s top comic titles in Anthony Chan (“Happy Bigamist”) and Richard Ng (“Winners and Sinners”) in a manic, bawdy romp that now makes a very welcome return to DVD.
The film gets off to a lively start, with Anthony Chan as David causing havoc at his wedding when he is revealed by a bunch of low-rent ghostbuster types to be a green haired Cherry Ghost – so called because he died a bachelor, and now has to deflower a virgin before the strangely lenient ghost police come to drag him away a few days later. Managing to escape, he sets his sights on Lisa, who is forcing her frustrated fiancé Landal (Richard Ng) to wait until they are married the following week before giving herself to him. David moves in upstairs and somehow ends up trying to woo both Lisa and her less than virginal sister Mimi, also appearing as his supposed wild man punk haired brother Robert. After no end of competitions with the sneaky ghost to try and win Lisa’s hand, or at least the way into her bed, Landal finally becomes suspicious as to his true identity, and calls back in the ghostbusters to try and trap the wily spirit.
“Till Death Shall we Start” has a pretty broad and crude sense of humour throughout, and is frequently very funny in the expected lowbrow manner. Basically the plot revolves around the race between the two men to see who can have sex with Lisa first, and as such is yet another example of male wish-fulfilment, making some pretty dodgy statements on sexual morality – not least since towards the end of the film David basically abandons romance in favour of what really just amounts to attempted rape. Still, its all vaguely harmless stuff, and is certainly no more misogynistic than other films of the time, with nothing too sleazy going on until the very end, which is frankly more disturbing than most straight horror films, and with the inevitable freeze frame final shot being too grotesque to be amusing.
Chan and Ng are on their usual bumbling form, both being amongst the better physical comedians of the time, putting their screwball stick to good use in dignity free roles. The slapstick is inventive throughout, especially during the last third, when things do get pretty surreal. David’s attempts to woo Lisa do make for some funny set pieces, though he sometimes goes to bizarre extremes, for example during a scene where he tries to convince the idiotic Landal that he has Parkinson’s disease. Also worthy of note is a sequence which really comes out of nowhere and surely earns some kind of randomness award, even by the scattershot standards of the genre, seeing Robert take Mimi to a “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” style female cage fight as a date, only to trick her into competing so that he can sneak back to Lisa’ side. The film as a whole is pretty madcap and manic and should provide fans of the form with an impressive quotient of laughs.
Ricky Lau is certainly one of the more skilled practitioners of the form, and he adds a few neat ideas to the ever flexible Hong Kong ghost lore, including a shop where ghosts can buy paper clothes and cars to have burned for them, using special credit cards, and the ghostbusters’ attempt to trap David by urinating upon him. At the same time, fans will be pleased to hear that he sticks to the old classics, such as the old device of putting woman’s panties on the head to see ghosts. Though the special effects pretty standard for this kind of film they are put to good use, and help to add a sense of fun and imagination to the proceedings.
Thanks to Lau’s lively handling, “Till Death Shall we Start” is definitely one of the best of its kind, and is far funnier than the similarly themed though more family friendly “Happy Ghost “series. Although not always in the best of tastes, the film is creative and wildly funny, and has plenty to offer for Hong Kong ghost fans who think they’ve seen it all.
Ricky Lau (director)
CAST: Anthony Chan … David