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  Nocturnal Demon Bumpkin bops bad guy
Year: 1991
Director: Ricky Lau
Stars: Moon Lee, Alfred Cheung, Lam Kau, Billy Lau, Isabelle Chow Wang, Teddy Yip, Cho Wing, Anthony Chan, Richard Ng, Tsui Siu-Ming, Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Wah, Chin Siu Ho
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A psychotic taxi driver is terrorizing Hong Kong. He gets his jollies sniffing lighter fuel and uses a retractable blade to slice the tongues off his victims. Into this nightmare stumbles Wawa (Moon Lee), a naive country bumpkin with a pudding bowl haircut, in town to visit her blind grandpa (Lam Kau) and geeky cousin Tin (Alfred Cheung). Just like Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon (1972), Wawa is completely clueless about city life but her amazing kung fu skills keep her ahead of the game. Which proves handy given luckless Tin bears an uncanny resemblance to the serial killer and now the cops are chasing the wrong man.

There is a strange tradition of wacky serial killer comedy horrors in Hong Kong cinema that seem like some crazed editor spliced random Marx Brothers scenes into The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Nocturnal Demon reunites peppy powerhouse Moon Lee with her Mr. Vampire (1985) director Ricky Lau, but the balance of comedy, action and suspense is not quite as accomplished. The humour is very particular to Cantonese culture with gags about mahjongg, familial customs, Chinese medicine and lots of wordplay, but some of the silly slapstick and culture clash jokes are universal enough to tickle the western funny bone. By far the film’s greatest asset is the ebullient comic turn from Moon Lee herself. This was an atypical role for the kung fu queen, usually cracking skulls and dealing hot lead in “girls-with-guns” classics like Angel (1987), and she is hilarious as the squeaky-voiced scatterbrain bumbling from one fine mess to another. Happily, she does not stint on the action either. A pole fight against a bunch of triad thugs and an astounding rollerskating kung fu scrap with a jewel thief played by veteran villain Yuen Wah (who choreographed the action scenes) showcase the remarkable acrobatic abilities that made Moon such a beloved star. In fact Yuen Wah is among several famous faces who put in cameos throughout the film: Moon’s Mr. Vampire co-star Chin Siu Ho appears as a cop as do actor-directors Anthony Chan and Tsui Siu-Ming, while another great filmmaker Corey Yuen Kwai appears as the hot-tempered husband of a rape victim who beats poor Tin to a pulp when he is wrongly accused of the crime.

Some of the comedy is in questionable taste, as when Tin admits he once drugged a woman to help a sex-crazed cop or the scene where he and Wawa elude the police disguised in blackface. Apart from Wawa, the characters are either selfish or crooked, which is another reoccurring trait in Cantonese comedy, if not an especially endearing one. There is a faintly patronising aspect to the Hong Kong city slickers’ depiction of a bumbling mainlander, but this is counterbalanced by the core message of family unity and the way the film presents the old blind man as wily and resourceful. Though a fair few gags arise at his expense, Lam Kau has one scene-stealing bit where he creates havoc while sneaking into a police station. Some of the culture clash satire recalls Family Light Affair (1984), a mainlanders-adrift-in-Hong Kong comedy directed by co-star Alfred Cheung, who has a string of critically-acclaimed funny movies under his belt as well as the similarly socially-conscious neo-noir classic On the Run (1989). While there is no evidence to suggest Cheung had any script input here, he gives his all, notably donning a pair of inflatable comedy breasts and performing a belly dance at gunpoint.

The finale manages to be both silly and suspenseful, as the characters sneak into a disco to lure out the killer. As you might guess, Wawa ends up scrapping with the psycho, only ridiculously attired in a gold lame blouse, hotpants, thigh boots and an Elvira fright wig.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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