Review for The Dead and the Deadly
It isn’t often that I am compelled to watch the same film twice, two days in a row, and it’s even less rare if I fell asleep watching it the first time around. It implies something about how tedious a film must be to put me under that deeply. It also doesn’t bode well for this review, coupled with the fact that I just made a realisation of how I’ve recently been mistaking an old genre for something new. Mr Vampire, and then Encounter of the Spooky Kind primed me for a kind of Hong Kong cinema that I hadn’t seen before, comedy, martial arts, horror movies. The first couple of times, they felt like a new genre; the different take on the supernatural in the Far East, coupled with comedy kung fu action was a refreshing change. Last night, I realised, as my awareness faded, that it’s really still Horror when you come down to it, and horror has never been my favourite genre.
Chu, a.k.a. Fat Boy, or Dumb Boy to his friends, works for a funeral service, but that doesn’t prepare him for the reality of working his friend Ma Lucho’s funeral. Given that his pregnant wife is one of the mourners (Lucho was impotent), it only raises Fat Boy’s suspicions. He’s right to be suspicious, as Lucho is running a scam, pretending to be dead so he can get his family’s grave goods, which he’ll split with his co-conspirators. But when his ‘wife’ learns that Lucho has a lot more money in the bank, which her unborn child will inherit at birth, she decides that Lucho will have to die for real. The next thing, Lucho’s ghost is knocking on Fat Boy’s door, demanding to be avenged...
The Dead and the Deadly gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, taken from a 2k restoration. You have the choice of PCM 2.0 Mono Cantonese (Theatrical), Cantonese (Home Video), and English dub audio tracks, with optional subtitles and signs. It’s an excellent transfer, clear and sharp with great detail, and rich and consistent colours. Detail levels are good, and contrast is impressive given the number of dark scenes. It all looks properly filmic as well, with a nice level of grain, although there are one or two signs of age in the print. When it comes to the audio, the Home Video mix is preferable as it avoids the harshness and distortion of the Theatrical audio. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, although some of the translations (female napkin?) add another level of humour.
The disc boots to a static menu, which lists everything on one page, audio options and extras, which you’ll find listed below.
Audio commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth
Audio commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Sammo Hung Interview - 2016 Undine Film Festival (21:11)
Sammo Hung Q&A – 2016 Undine Film Festival (57:08)
The first 2000 copies of The Dead and the Deadly will ship with a booklet on the film, as well as o-card slipcover packaging.
I really wound up enjoying The Dead and the Deadly... the second time of trying. The comedy really stands out more than the horror and even the kung-fu elements, although the action is as inventive and visually stunning as you would expect from a Golden Harvest movie of this period in the eighties. It turns out that I wasn’t bored last night, just dead tired, and I certainly wasn’t as lively as some of the dead people in this movie. The second time around, thankfully I stayed awake long enough for the humour to bite, and once it had its teeth in me it wouldn’t let go for the duration.
That is where the strength of the film lies, beginning with Fat Boy as he works among a group of cheeky reprobates at a funeral service, led by the cantankerous second uncle, a man who is patently too old to work, but does so anyway, relying on help for the more physical aspects of his job. When Ma Lucho shows up dead, his friend Fat Boy is convinced that there is more to his death than meets the eye, and becomes determined to sneak in and perform an autopsy to prove foul play. Given that Ma Lucho is just faking it for the sake of avarice, it becomes a ludicrous action packed farce, as not only Fat Boy but also an opportunistic thief effectively tries to desecrate the corpse. It’s only by pretending to be a ghost that Lucho manages to convince his friend.
That only makes it more difficult for him when the worst happens, and he’s murdered, and as an actual ghost, he tried to convince Fat Boy to avenge his death. At this point Fat Boy has had enough, and wants nothing to do with him, so Lucho’s spirit, who is invisible to everyone else, winds up ruining Fat Boy’s life until he changes his mind. The comic potential in the story is considerable, and the filmmakers clearly make the most of it in this highly enjoyable romp. And for a 1982 Hong Kong movie, the special effects hold up well too.
Eureka Entertainment go the usual extra mile when it comes to sourcing quality transfers of vintage Hong Kong cinema, giving them great HD presentations with lots of useful extra features, and The Dead and the Deadly is no exception. I’m left with two lingering questions... There is a plot thread left hanging in this film which will haunt me into the afterlife. What happened to the baby? And also, how did I eat a bowl of popcorn last night while sleeping through this film?