Mr. Vampire is a classic piece of Hong Kong cinema that is loved by fans across the world for its blend of horror, comedy, and martial arts. The film lies within the Jiangshi genre – characterised by hopping vampires and that blend of scares, laughs and Kung Fu – but of course as popular as Mr. Vampire is, it wasn’t the first film to introduce the genre. That title goes to Sammo Hung’s Encounter of the Spooky Kind.
Originally released in 1980, Encounter of the Spooky Kind made its way to UK audiences in the form of different VHS and DVD releases, but now we have a 2K restoration Blu Ray courtesy of Eureka, for the first time. Hung, most famous for working with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, writes, directs and stars in this highly entertaining flick that sees the lowly Courageous Cheung targeted by Master Tam (Huang Ha), who is sleeping with Cheung’s wife. Master Tam hires Priest Chin Hoi (Lung Chan) to trick Cheung into staying the night in a temple where a vampire lies there ready to kill him.
This Blu Ray release has some interesting special features but the film itself is more than worth the purchase. Encounters of the Spooky Kind still holds up incredibly well since its release 41 years ago and that is mostly thanks to Hung. He makes for a charismatic lead, using over the top facial and body expressions to nail the film’s many comedic moments, but also knows when to play it straight and sell the horror set pieces. The direction is solid and the writing is serviceable, but it’s Hung’s action choreography that is most impressive. Even to this day, this is some of the most impressive martial art fighting you’ll ever see on screen. The wide-angled, long take sequences showcase the energy and brilliant inventiveness of the action that you just don’t see much of these days, and even with fists and bodies flying Hung manages to incorporate physical comedy within the impressive Kung Fu on display.
The 2K restoration makes Encounters of the Spooky Kind even more of a visual treat, with super clear frames that heighten the surprisingly wonderful cinematography and the colours pop right off the screen, in particular the reds that make up most of the production design. There isn’t any information on the particular sound mix used for this version of the film, but through some home cinema speakers the sound design is fantastic. The dialogue (although mostly dubbed) is clear and the hard-hitting punches have some real weight. Most memorable is the thunderous bass of each hop from the vampire, which adds some genuine terror to the creature’s unusual movements.
Eureka has bundled in some special features to enjoy that range from somewhat disappointing to great. The stills gallery is definitely the former: there are only a handful of images and half of them are simply scans of press releases from the film’s original release. The archival interview with Hung can be pretty interesting, where he recalls his journey from brawling in the streets as a teenager to becoming a Hong Kong cinema icon, but he doesn’t even talk much about Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Thankfully the audio commentary from Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng is a fascinating feature. Djeng helpfully translates a lot of the Cantonese slang used in the film, dives into a lot of the trivia surrounding the cast and crew, and views particular scenes through an analytical lens.
There’s a disappointing lack of behind the scenes features on the production of the film itself, but this is still a brilliant Blu Ray package. Encounters of the Spooky Kind has never looked or sounded so good, and fans of Evil Dead 2 and Mr. Vampire will certainly get a kick out of this but so too will anyone looking for a surprising rollercoaster of a ride. Hopefully with this release the film will finally gain the popularity that it so rightfully deserves.
Encounter of the Spooky Kind will release on Blu Ray on June 21.