2 November 2016 | BrianDanaCamp
THE FAKE GHOST CATCHERS – Action comedy with ghosts from Shaw Bros.
THE FAKE GHOST CATCHERS (1982) is a period comedy-adventure with lots of supernatural content that was produced by Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio, most likely as a response to the success of Golden Harvest's ENCOUNTER OF THE SPOOKY KIND (1980), which starred and was directed by Sammo Hung. Golden Harvest did the best films in the kung fu/ghost genre, including the MR. VAMPIRE series and the Yuen Clan's Taoism series, so the few Shaw Bros. comedies of this type pale in comparison. (Their more serious black magic films, like BLACK MAGIC and THE BOXER'S OMEN, are another matter entirely and much more effective.) However, THE FAKE GHOST CATCHERS remains an entertaining action comedy with some engaging performances by a small cast led by Hsiao Hou (MAD MONKEY KUNG FU) and Chang Chan-Peng, brother of kung fu star Alexander Fu Sheng, as well as Fu Sheng himself, who has a non-fighting comic supporting role in the film as a traveling Chinese Opera performer who functions as a medium for one of the ghost characters. Also on hand are Wang Lung Wei as a corrupt official pursuing Chang's character, who is trying to take a list of names to the regional judge to prove Wang's corruption, and Lily Li in a dual role as the ghost of a bride murdered by a jealous suitor on her wedding night and the living sister of the bride.
The plot (from a script by Wong Jing) is all over the place and doesn't always respect continuity as it tells of a young man (Hsiao Hou) who abandons his job as assistant to a fake medium (hence, the title of the film) and is recruited, along with Chang, to aid the bride's ghost who is pursued in the afterlife by the ghost of the jealous suitor. Only by helping the two men transport the spell containing her soul, stashed inside an umbrella, to her sister in another town can the ghost achieve justice and find peace. There are lots of obstacles along the way, including the eyepatch-wearing Wang Lung Wei and his men and a detour involving the opera performer, now possessed by the bride's ghost, winning at the gambling tables as long as the bride's spell is maintained. It all leads to multiple confrontations in an abandoned villa, starting with a kung fu fight with Wang Lung Wei and his men and continuing with a showdown between the ghost of the jealous suitor and the three heroes using written spells and other supernatural tactics.
The pay-off is not nearly as imaginative as a film like this needs (see the spectacular finale of ENCOUNTER OF THE SPOOKY KIND) and it's a big disappointment that Fu Sheng never fights, although his comic performance is otherwise quite enjoyable. Still, it's quite watchable and has a good cast and the usual high-level Shaw Bros. production values, complete with an effective array of clever special effects. I'm intrigued by Chang Chan-Peng, who is quite good as the kung fu-fighting crusader-on-the-run, and could have been a major star in his own right. His final battle with Wang Lung Wei is most impressive. I've seen him in a few other films, but he never registered with me before this film and he seems to have left the business after the shock of his brother's death in a car accident in 1983.
I watched this film on an R3 DVD released by Celestial Pictures.