Magic Cop
Hong Kong 1989
Directed by Stephen Tung Wai.

Lam Ching-Ying is back with another supernatural adventure, only this time, he isn't a Taoist priest, he's a cop! Well, not really. Actually he's a cop AND a Taoist priest. This film had me hooked before the opening credits even finished.

When we first meet Uncle Fung (Lam Ching-Ying), it's Ghost Festival, and he tries to stop a string of ritual mistakes that could lead to bad consequences. An old lady almost extinguishes an offering fire. And worse yet, a child nearly pees on the burning pot! Judging by the testiness of the spirits this time of year, I imagine the newspaper the next day must be filled with hundreds of people who got killed by vengeful ghosts because of something stupid and trivial they did to offend the spirits.

While Uncle Fung busies himself with his talismans and his earthenware jars on the mainland, in Hong Kong a buddy-cop movie is taking place. Officer Lam and Sergeant 2273 are undercover cops ready to catch a drug smuggler in a restaurant. They spot a suspicious woman and try to arrest her, but it turns out she's already dead! With a case like this, who you gonna call? Uncle Fung arrives in Hong Kong on the next boat with his neice, Lin, to examine the body. Fung immediately suspects supernatural foul play, but Officer Lam is unconvinced.

Officer Lam and Sergeant 2273 nicely fit the role of the two students Lam Ching-Ying usually has in each movie. Sergeant 2273 is supposed to be the somewhat stupid but nice one, Officer Lam the handsome and independent one. In truth, they are both as dumb as a box of rocks. Officer Lam is a complete sexist pig, leering uncontrollably and slapping the ass of every woman in reach. It's all part of a days' work. When Fung's neice Lin starts taking a shine to Officer Lam, Fung of course becomes very protective. Why he just doesn't go ballistic and kill Lam, I'll never know. I certainly would have.

Officer Lam and Sergeant 2273 are forced to work with Fung by their commanding officer (played by Wu Ma in a nice supporting role), who is an old friend of Uncle Fung (those ex-Taoist priests stick together). Fung begins his investigative work by using his knowledge of feng-shui. Although the officers hope to uncover a drug operation, they find that behind it, an evil Japanese priestess (the chilling Michiko Nishikawa) is pulling all the strings (literally). But even though she's Japanese, she uses a form of Taoist magic. Fung explains: "All things come from China. Japan had contact with China during the T'ang dynasty, and many things were learned then." He even recognizes the cult: The Division of Nine Daisies. Ohhhh. Sounds scary.

Although we may question Fung's belief that all things came from China, he's right on the money when he talks about the T'ang Dynasty influence of China on Japan. In the fourth century A.D., Japan was still just a mountainous, backwater island with a rudimentary form of tribal government and ritual, animistic beliefs, while China was quite simply the most advanced civilization on the planet. Naturally their proximity influenced the shape of Japanese government and culture. The Japanese borrowed the Chinese Kanji to write with, the Chinese government to create a more formalized structure to the indiginous system, and Chinese architecture and city planning for their capital cities. Cities like Nara and Kyoto were based exactly on the T'ang Chinese grid pattern. This was also the time that Buddhism came to Japan, and flourished. The old beliefs never died out, but they did have to be named, to differentiate them from the new, foreign religion; it became known as Shinto. During all of this cross-fertilization of ideas and cultures, Taoism became known in Japan, too, but never reached the popularity of Buddhism, and disappeared rather quickly.

As to the priestess' form of Taoism, it most certainly is -- unusual. She's very good at using flowers, ropes, and strings. God forbid if she ever grabs a length of thread and makes a Cat's Cradle. And where can I get my hands on a cloak that can crumble into a big ball, burst into flames, and fly around like a guided missle? I wonder if Old Navy carries anything like that. Both priests make liberal use of their talents for possession and re-animation in their confrontations with each other. Sergeant 2273's main function seems to be as an empty vessel that Uncle Fung can use to perform ritual magic. Likewise, instead of simply telling someone to do something for her, the evil priestess prefers killing the person, shoving an ice pick in their head, and animating the corpse so that it does her bidding without question. Not only does this create a very cooperative henchman, she also saves quite a bit on room & board costs. If I was her number one henchman, I wouldn't feel a lot of job security. The final battle between the priest/cop and evil priestess is exciting and interesting, and proves once and for all that Taoists are damn hard to kill.

Lam Ching-Ying shines in this film, merging his tough-love Taoist priest character with his tough-as-nails police officer character. More action and less low-brow humor help to elevate this entry above most of the other films in this genre. And bringing in the Japanese priestess and Hong Kong buddy cops give it lots of new ideas to play with. Michiko Nishikawa is a challenging foe, even though toward the end she starts dressing in a skin-tight sparkly outfit that makes her look like one of the alien rock women from Destroy All Monsters. It's never entirely clear why she is running a drug operation using moving corpses. In fact, it's never even remotely clear. Still, that doesn't get in the way of the action. After all, nothing bogs down an action film like a script that makes sense. Officer Lam and Sergeant 2273 grew on me by the end of the film. It helped that Uncle Fung tormented Sergeant Lam constantly. Still, I would have slapped a restraining order on him had he even looked at my neice.

View the trailer:

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 29, 2004.

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