Imp, The
Hong Kong 1981
Directed by Dennis Yu.

Ah Keung (Charles Chin) is looking for a fulltime job to support his wife and child-to-be, and understandably wants to stand on his own and not accept a job from his father in-law (as if taking a job from your father in-law isn't unmanly enough, the job would be at his father in-law's bra factory). He eventually finds a job on his own, as a night security guard for a mall/office complex. The regular guards, led by Fatty (Kent Cheng), show him the ropes, but as he tries to settle in to his new job, horrifying things begin happening in the building, and people end up dead. A taoist ghostbuster (Yueh Hua) shows up to uncover the evil spirits and save Ah Keung's soul, if it isn't too late.

It is surprising, but even after scores of green and blue lit supernatural horror films, most of which came after this one, THE IMP still has the capacity to shock and scare. Director Dennis Yu takes the time to let us get to know about the characters in this drama, and shoots them going about their everyday lives in a realistic manner. Kent Cheng is a particular standout, a very likable, down to earth security guard with some funny quirks (especially his off-duty wear -- one day he wears a tight, bright red T-shirt that reads, "Am I a woman?", on the next day his shirt reads, "No, I am a man").

This is where THE IMP is the strongest -- documenting these characters lives, and the moment when the supernatural slowly but unstoppably brings an end to those lives. An early scene shows the guards eating at a noodle shop, with Kent Cheng feeding table scraps to a dog underneath, while another of the guards (whom they call "Mr. Hong Kong") sits disgusted at the dogs presence. Later, he cooks up the dog for everyone to eat in a hot pot. Fatty is angry at first, wishing Mr. Hong Kong chokes on a bone. But when Mr. Hong Kong does just that, it is agonizing and horrific.

THE IMP is less successful when the Taoist Yueh Hua enters the picture and the typical taoist ceremonial battle ensues. Although this material may have been fresh upon the movie's release in 1981, it is severely dated now, though in keeping with the realism and attention to detail throughout the film, the Taoist priest's battle techniques are rooted in obscure superstition (at one point, he instructs Ah Keung to go home and attack his stove). But the tension continues to build, and THE IMP redeems itself at the end, with a nasty conclusion that remains as shocking today as when the film was first released.

Rating: Highly Recommended (Highly Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 27, 2005.

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