Everyone has to start somewhere. Even Wong Kar-Wai, aka Hong Kong’s classiest director — a director who has seen international acclaim for brilliant films like In the Mood for Love (2000), Chungking Express (1994), and Happy Together (1997). And that’s only naming a few. Before making his directorial debut with 1988’s As Tears Go By, Wai worked as a full-time screenwriter, pumping out scripts so typical of mid-80s Hong Kong cinema that you’d never know a future master had penned them. Perhaps most ludicrous of Wai’s early writing credits is 1987’s The Haunted Cop Shop.
THE HAUNTED COP SHOP
original title: 猛鬼差館
Hong Kong, 1987, Jeffrey Lau
The Haunted Cop Shop centres on two stupid cops — Macky (Jackie Cheung) and Man (the late Ricky Hui). Neither one is the straight man. Both are equally annoying. Well, Jackie Cheung is somewhat more annoying. I really don’t like Jackie Cheung. Wong Kar-Wai would later use him to good effect in Days of Being Wild (1990), but generally his buffoonish presence is like nails on a chalkboard. These two inept cops find themselves face to face with General Issei (Tso Chung-Sing), a Japanese vampire who lives in their cop shop.
Yes, Macky and Man’s police station is haunted by the ghosts of Japanese soldiers who committed harakiri in the building upon hearing news of losing the war. And, for some reason, the ghosts are also vampires. When petty crim Sneaky Ming (Billy Lau) is bitten by the General Issei and then turns to dust in front of Macky and Man after sunlight hits him, they, understandably, lose their fucking minds. They attempt to convince their superior that the city is in danger of Japanese ghost-vampires. Their chief (Wu Fung), thinking Macky and Man are playing a prank, assigns Superintendent Fanny (Kitty Chan) to the case. She, of course, becomes a victim of relentless sexual advances.
For much of its running time, Japanese ghost-vampires aside, The Haunted Cop Shop is a fairly generic and conventional Hong Kong comedy filled with the requisite slapstick and cross-eyed performances you’d expect. However, the pranks pulled by Macky and Man dip into truly insane territory. In the film’s maddest moment, the two idiot-cops kill a police dog (offscreen) and feed its corpse to Superintendent Fanny. This is played for laughs. I couldn’t quite grasp the reason for Macky and Man’s canine murder prank, but when the two protagonists of a comedy kill a German Shepherd and feed it to the female love interest (or sex object, I should say), you know you’re watching something special.
There are also some uncharacteristically good gags on display. A scene that brings to mind both Shaun of the Dead and Bad Taste (it predates Shaun by almost two decades and came out the same year as Peter Jackson’s feature debut) where the idiots-cops pretend to be mindless vampires and chow down on the fresh corpse of a cow in order to avoid having their blood drained had me laughing pretty hard.
The Haunted Cop Shop‘s style improves enormously when it veers away from comedy and into horror territory. Suddenly the frame is bathed in colour. The cinematography and art direction transforms from flat shots of people lined up against a blank wall to fluid, well composed shots. It’s almost as if there were two directors on set, or credited director Jeffrey Lau slept through certain scenes — both scenarios would not surprise me.
Even if you can’t appreciate the obnoxious comedy and decently executed glimpses of horror, there’s no denying that The Haunted Cop Shop is unpredictable. At some point far past the halfway mark of the film, a bad-ass vampire fighter (Chung Fat) is introduced out of nowhere. He demonstrates some great martial arts skills, does a whole bunch of cool shit, and then has his arm gorily ripped off. Then he’s gone. Dead. Was this spliced in from another movie? Was this in Wong Kar-Wai’s script? I have no fucking clue.
Wong Kar-Wai and goofy Hong Kong horror-comedy. I could have never imagined those words could share the same sentence, but The Haunted Cop Shop is definitely required viewing for fans of both. How deep did Wai’s involvement run? I don’t know. He may have written a really good script that was mostly ignored on set. He may have pumped out a bog standard horror-comedy turned mad by cast and crew. Or, maybe, and I like think this one is true, Wong Kar-Wai wrote a film where the protagonists kill a dog.
The Haunted Cop Shop was at one point available on DVD from Fortune Star, but it’s now out of print. You could probably find it digging around online though.