Sunday, September 18, 2011

Evil Cat (1987)

For four-hundred years, the male members of the Cheung family have battled the same evil cat spirit every fifty years, reducing it to the last of its nine lives by virtue of their special males only magic and kung fu.

It's good that the cat is on its last life, too, for there's only one male descendent of the Cheung's still alive. Master Cheung (Liu Chia-Liang) has only been able to produce a daughter (boo! hiss!), TV reporter Siu-Chuen (Joann Tang Lai-Ying) before his wife died, and will now have to face the evil cat all by himself, unless he finds a pupil and adherent to teach his technique too. No, I don't understand why a random pupil would be enough when the film's always going on about descendants, but then, this was written by Wong Jing.

When evil Kitty re-awakens, it kills a few people and possesses the body of Hong Kong entrepreneur Mr. Fan (Stuart Ong), making Cheung's job all the more difficult. After all, who will believe an older gentleman of doubtful sanity that a local rich guy is possessed by a murderous cat spirit? Fortunately, Kitty itself isn't much for secrecy, and shows its demonic nature to Fan's chauffeur Long (Mark Cheng Ho-Nam) by jumping into Fan's private fountain and eating a fish while making cat noises. Afterwards, Kitty tries to kill Long and his mother, but only manages to drive Long into the arms of Cheung (who had already met Long in a moment of Wong Jingian random chance).

Cheung's pretty happy with that part of the situation, because now he has a willing pupil and a potential husband for his daughter all in one person. Now there's only the problem of destroying the cat spirit forever while trying not to get arrested by the cop investigating the cat killings, Handsome Wu (hide your daughters! It's Wong Jing in person!).

With Evil Cat, horror and exploitation specialist director Dennis Yu joins forces with the horror known as Wong Jing, and somehow manages to squeeze a watchable film out of the anti-master's script.

Yu is helped by the surprising state of Wong's script, namely that it's not quite as terrible as the man's usual written output. That's not to say that Wong produced something all that coherent or sensible, it rather means the film makes somewhat more sense than the writer/producer/director/actor's usual output. The relative (there is a bit more randomness and people acting like idiots than I like in the film) dearth of random, lazy short cuts in the film's plot might even hint at the unthinkable - Wong Jing may actually have been trying.

Of course, Wong Jing being Wong Jing, his mere presence on and off screen also means that Evil Cat contains a handful of scenes of perfectly humourless humour - in something that may be irony all including Wong Jing as an actor -, a bit of vomiting, some minor (again, for Wong Jing) misogyny and the completely inevitable rape scene when the evil cat has to seek a new host in form of Mister Fan's personal assistant. Well, at least this time around the rape is committed by a blue cartoon swirl, and not played for laughs, which lets it beat eighty percent of all Wong Jing rape scenes for tastefulness.

If I'm leaving the impression here that (to put it mildly) I still don't care for Wong Jing's work at all, that's absolutely true. But hey, unlike with ninety-nine percent of the guy's other films, I actually enjoyed watching Evil Cat, though most probably for the elements Dennis Yu and Liu-Chia Liang added.

Liu-Chia Liang's contribution is twofold. Firstly, he's upstaging his younger, mostly horribly bland acting colleagues, by the virtues of screen presence, charisma and dignity even when he's acting silly in each and every scene he's in, and makes these scenes magically three times better than they were without him. It's quite fortunate that he's in most of the film.

Secondly, the veteran is also responsible for the film's action direction, providing a bit of elegance and excitement and bringing out the true spirit of weird fu from time to time. I also have to say that Liu himself looks incredibly fit for a man aged 51 in his fights.

Dennis Yu's direction is mostly pretty inconspicuous here, not distractingly bad, not overtly exciting, but at least the director does provide his audience with some excellently ridiculous monster effects and cartoon swirls, and that's exactly what the film needs.

Say what you will about me, but never let it be said I'm not appreciating a director who has no compunction against repeatedly showing us actors acting possessed by crouching on all fours, baring their teeth, jumping around and making pathetic attempts at cat noises, or using something I'll just have to call cat fu.

And that's before the cat spirit's final transformation comes into play: hair metal cat, a creature so absurd that I found it utterly impossible to dislike the film it's appearing in, Wong Jing or not.


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