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  Eternal Combat To take you to his mansion in the sky
Year: 1991
Director: Yip Shing-Hong
Stars: Joey Wong, Lam Ching Ying, Shing Fui-On, Gabriel Wong Yat-San, Joh Chung-Sing, Anthony Wong, Phillip Ko Fei, Lau Siu-Ming, Hui Siu-Hung, Yu Miu-Lin, Sai Gwa-Pau
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Centuries ago in China, a lovely maiden named Cici (Joey Wong) is sold in marriage to an evil Japanese ghost samurai (Joh Chung-Sing). Though she tries to resist, she is transformed into his sword-wielding ghost slave. Hulking military officer Ma Sheung-Fung (Shing Fui-On) is tasked to eliminate this supernatural menace by the Imperial government. Having no clue how to fight a ghost, he visits a powerful Taoist priest (Lam Ching Ying) and his obnoxious sidekick Tortoise (Gabriel Wong Yat-San), but is distracted by the discovery of a magical sex drug. Unfortunately Sheung-Fung dies whilst field-testing the drug at the local brothel. He is promptly resurrected as a ghostly apprentice assisting Tortoise and the Taoist sifu in their battle against Cici and the ghost samurai. In the midst of a magical duel the Taoist is suddenly pulled through a time vortex... and arrives on the set of a Chinese ghost movie!

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) made Joey Wong a star but also typecast her as a lovelorn lady ghost throughout the bulk of her career. She eventually got to flex her acting muscles in films like My Heart Is That Eternal Rose (1989) and Green Snake (1993) and actually contributes a surprisingly powerful performance here in what is arguably the craziest Chinese Ghost Story rip-off she ever made. Exquisitely shot by cinematographer Eric Chu Kwok-Fai, Eternal Combat follows its own cockeyed course very different from A Chinese Ghost Story with an episodic nature more reminiscent of Mr. Vampire (1985). Which was perhaps intentional given the film pairs Wong with Mr. Vampire himself, the ever-stoic Lam Ching Ying. Naturally Lam’s babbling about time travel, demons and ghosts gets him sent to an insane asylum. Suddenly, we are in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest territory as he clashes with the hospital’s dictatorial staff, bonds with its assorted imprisoned kooks and eventually finds a sympathetic ear in the form of - surprise! - Joey Wong in a second role as psychiatrist Dr. Gigi Wong.

Meanwhile, his bumbling assistants land in the middle of a Catholic mass, clinging onto a cross before terrified churchgoers. Director Yip Shing-Hong - who has only a handful of notable film credits including Today’s Hero (1991) a comedy pairing Maggie Cheung with Kenny Bee and the Donnie Yen vehicle Cheetah on Fire (1992) - throws some good-natured jibes at Christianity as part of the broader culture clash humour. Fed and sheltered by the kindly clergy, Tortoise and Sheung-Fung eventually venture into the outside world and earn a living as street performers, though they only keep the coins and throw away the “useless” paper money. Gabriel Wong Yat-San brings little charm to the stock clumsy assistant role but veteran villain Shing Fui-On essays an intriguingly offbeat sidekick. A feckless father of five who blusters and blunders his way towards genuine heroism.

Aided by fellow inmates, Lam escapes the asylum, though his newfound friends opt not to accompany him claiming “the world outside is far more crazy.” Disguising himself as a cute little puppy, Lam hitches a lift with Gigi and winds up at her apartment where the relationship between lovely lady and man-trapped-in-a-dog’s-body plays in a similar vein to Happy Ghost V (1991) which was itself modelled on the strange Chevy Chase comedy Oh Heavenly Dog (1980). Only, Lam ends up saving Gigi from being raped in the shower by Ben, her psychotic ex-boyfriend played by a stark bollock naked Anthony Wong. Which proves the scariest sight in the whole movie. The scenes where Ben brutalizes Gigi are played with an unsettling intensity but serve to underline a genuine theme of female empowerment. Having succumbed to a domineering male force in her previous incarnation, Gigi gradually gains the confidence to stand up to Ben. The lively (or bat-shit insane) climax sees Ben bringing a kidnapped Gigi to the church and coercing the captive clergy into performing a wedding ceremony, until the Japanese demon possesses his mind and - for reasons of its own - makes him sing “Delta Dawn” the country classic made famous by Tanya Tucker whilst slashing himself with a knife. Yes, really.

The special effects and fast-paced action choreography are top notch, including a memorable scene where Lam leaps speeding cars across a busy motorway. Editing and frenzied camerawork are a match for its source, though there are lulls between action sequences and some of the comedy falls flat. Lam’s overly stern swordsman lacks the vibrant eccentricity of similar characters essayed by Wu Ma, but Joey Wong brings unexpected gravitas to her role, despite ducking in and out of the plot. Plus you get to see her in full bridal get up battling a flame-haired samurai.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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