Possessed (1983)
Hong Kong 1983
Directed by David Lai.


Buddy cops Hsiao (Gary Siu) and Ming (Lau Siu Ming) go on a drunk and end up shooting to death a homicidal maniac trying to chop up his own wife. It sets in motion a chain of events that unleashes a hanged ghost wronged in the past by Hsiao's father, and bent on killing him and all his ancestors. And, there's a flaming chicken.

POSSESSED is Hong Kong New Wave director David Lai's first entry in the ghost horror genre pioneered by Dennis Yu's THE IMP (1981). This film owes a lot to THE IMP in terms of overall style, but it also owes a lot to an even bigger ghost picture that came out in 1982, POLTERGEIST. The most obvious borrowings from POLTERGEIST begin when Hsiao starts peeling his own flesh off while looking in the bathroom mirror (you can see it coming a mile away). Later, when he finally looks up a Taoist sifu, wouldn't you know she is a short chubby lady with glasses (paging Zelda Rubinstein).

But unlike the family friendly, PG horror of POLTERGEIST, POSSESSED is dripping in sleaze. Hsiao's younger sister (Irene Wan) is constantly trying to get it on with her young boyfriend. For his part, Hsiao has a Korean girlfriend who likes to appear topless and who is eventually raped by the ghost (perhaps inspired by Sidney Furie's 1981 feature THE ENTITY). The ghost rape, in which the audience is invited to leer at the unobstructed view of the nude actress, becomes something of a staple in Category III horror films from here out. But the event in POSSESSED is truly too violent in its depiction to be sexy. But, like many scenes in POSSESSED, just when the tension is high, the filmmakers go over the top and things progress from horrible to just ludicrous. In this case, it suffices to say that though the ghost is invisible, it can still deliver an ectoplasmic "money shot."

What saves POSSESSED from being just a cheap knock off is its great location shooting, its depiction of a grimy, sweaty Hong Kong, a sense that real people somehow inhabit this world of vengeful ghosts. Where the ghost spews green ectoplasm, Ming gets drunk and projectile vomits on a hapless pickpocket. Its a messy place, whether ghost or human. In one scene, the cops climb up to a rooftop to save a jumper, holding a broken umbrella, teetering on the edge. The roof itself is a tangle of wires an television antennas, a complex, haphazard web of technology. The mystic world seems much the same, as the Exorcism that takes place at the end is a mishmash of Buddhism and Taoism, of chicken blood and prayer beads. (And did I mention the flaming chicken? Yes, I think I did).

Keep an eye out for Wong Yat-Fei, most familiar to Hong Kong movie fans as "Iron Head" in the movie SHAOLIN SOCCER, making an appearance as a blind fortuneteller. That lower lip is recognizable anywhere. Also watch for the theme-appropriate appearance of PAC-MAN on the Atari 2600 -- you just know when that little yellow guy keeps getting eaten by the ghosts that there is going to be trouble.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 19, 2005.


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