Warning: Spoilers ahead!
aka The Trial (which has as little to do with the movie as the other
English language title)
Original title: 追鬼七雄
Revolutionary era China. A guy going by the nickname of Captain (Kent Cheng
Jak-Si) and his cohorts are using a most excellent opium smuggling technique:
Captain and his second Ying (Ricky Hui Koon-Ying) dress up as Buddhist monks
while the rest of the gang pack the loot into belts, straps those on and dress
up as jiang shi (also known as hopping vampires, or in the case of these
subtitles, zombies, though they are not exactly either) the supposed monks are
herding around. It’s a rather brilliant plan, truly.
However, one local evil potentate (Miao Tian) pays our heroes to take the
corpse of what he tells them is his brother with them, for his brother, his main
henchman explains, has died of leprosy, and getting his remains away as
stealthily as possible is absolutely necessary to protect the village’s good
reputation. It’s a lie, of course, and the old bastard is trying to cover up a
murder. This lie and their own greed will cost our dubious heroes dearly after
they have dumped the body in a sulphur pit.
For because the corpse has a score to the settle with the potentate, it
returns to life right quick as a real jiang shi (not doing any hopping but all
the more rotting) and starts killing animals and opium smugglers alike. Captain
and his gang decide to destroy the thing (his whole-sale slaughter of the local
population and one of their own is bad for business, or something), arming
themselves with the urine of virgin boys and the traditional yellow charms.
Things are not going to go well for them.
The style of Ronny Yu’s The Trail has much less to do with the later
jiang shi classic Mr Vampire than I had expected, apart from this too
being a horror comedy. The depiction of the monster is much more gruesome than
the pale hopping gentlemen in traditional garb other films about its kind have
made me accustomed to (and, as far as I know, it’s much closer to the depiction
of the creatures in much Chinese folklore about them). It’s a rotting, shambling
monstrosity that is pretty close to a zombie, just stronger, meaner, sometimes
cleverer and definitely harder to kill – probably even when its enemies were
more competent than our protagonists are.
As a comedy, this is a pretty dark one, with a group of morally
suspect protagonists mostly doomed to die pretty horrible deaths and two
survivors who will learn exactly nothing from what happened to them, the film’s
epilogue showing them disguised as catholic priests selling fake possessions but
of course stumbling into a pretty hilarious The Exorcist situation. The
humour is Hong Kong standard, though pleasantly avoiding the greatest extremes
of slapstick and random nonsense, keeping most of the jokes integrated into the
actual plot. In a really surprising turn of events, I even found myself laughing
about a lot of the funny business, certainly thanks to the chipper casts of guys
we know and love from dozens of other Hong Kong films, but also because Yu as a
director always was rather fantastic at the timing aspect of things, be it in
comedy, action, or suspense.
The suspense scenes here in particular turn out very nicely, with many highly
effective sequences of our hapless heroes trying to first catch, then avoid the
jiang shi only to see things getting worse and worse with every well timed bad
turn. Yu escalates their troubles with a rhythm one could probably dance to,
sometimes building tension out of comedic elements (there’s some excellent
business concerning the monster and frog voice imitations), at other times
ending the tension with a laugh that actually does work as comic relief
If that’s not enough for you, there’s also a nice underground tomb set, some
adorable miniature work and the mandatory blue light to gawk at and enjoy, as
well as a bit of decent kung fu and an absurdly unsubtle yet curiously effective