The Occupant

THE TRAIL was far from Ronny Yu’s only attempt at mixing sincere supernatural horror with silly comedy. THE OCCUPANT (1984) is a ghost tale that takes its tragic backstory seriously, but the movie centers on a goofy love triangle, and one of the three leads is a broadly comedic nerd character named Hansom Wong (Bak-Ming Wong, MAD MISSION, LETHAL PANTHER, also a writer, producer and director).

Like Yu himself, Angie (Sally Yeh, PEKING OPERA BLUES, THE KILLER) is a world traveler – she’s from Vancouver, visiting Hong Kong for three weeks to work on her thesis about Chinese superstition. Hansom is a… used car salesman/property manager/random weirdo?… who sees her trying to find an apartment, latches onto her and “helps” her in exaggeratedly-sexual-harassy ways. He invites himself in, makes excuses not to leave, asks if he can take a shower, suggests that he should run around the apartment naked to scare away potential ghosts. I don’t know if that’s a cultural thing or a Hansom Wong thing. (He also claims to be an expert on the supernatural.)

Angie seems unthreatened by him because she can pretty much keep him in his place. He’s more of an annoyance than a danger. He’s like if Orko was constantly hitting on Teela. Much more than Hansom Wong, Angie seems to be bothered by handsome Valentino (Yu’s THE POSTMAN FIGHTS BACK star Chow Yun Fat) who actually wasn’t hitting on her at the airport like she thought he was. He’s a cop and he was just pretending to have a conversation with her while pursuing a pickpocket. When he ends up at the apartment to check on a ghost-related disturbance she rejects him again, and only then does he start trying to win her over. “Good looking, but a sex maniac” is how Angie describes him on her tape recorder.

It’s kind of a cheap movie full of short cuts – or is it true that apartments in Hong Kong come furnished, including wall art, plants, pianos and record collections? – and there are very broad jokes, like when skinny Hansom struts onto the beach and thinks everybody is checking him out, but actually they’re laughing at him because Valentino painted his nails and put makeup on him while he was asleep. I have to admit, he’s kind of funny sometimes too. He brags about a talent scout wanting him to be in a movie. Playing a corpse. With his head turned.

The horror parts are pretty routine: furniture and dishes moving around on their own, mysterious things appearing in photos, visiting a medium, candles, lightning, etc. But the exorcism is at least different from the Catholic standard, with them having to paint symbols on all of Angie’s “exit points” to trap the ghost inside.

I also thought a part with the caretaker (Ren Hao, COME DRINK WITH ME, ABOVE THE LAW, DOG BITE DOG) who frequently appears behind them was pretty effective. And it’s kind of cool that the person who tells Angie she couldn’t have heard the neighbors being loud because she’s the only one in the building also couldn’t have told her that because he died a year ago.

It’s nowhere near as good, but I guess the tone is kinda comparable to a ghost comedy that came out in the U.S. that same year: GHOSTBUSTERS. The ghost part here is more serious, because it involves a murder-suicide attempting to repeat itself, but the haunting is used for jokes like Hansom repeatedly being thrown out a high window and having to pay to fix the car he keeps landing on.

Unfortunately it’s not a special effects movie like GHOSTBUSTERS. You don’t get to see much. There’s one part with an animated spectre

that appears and then stretches out a long arm to pick up Hansom Wong and throw him out the window.

That part was cool. But that’s about it. For the most part it doesn’t have the arresting visuals generally associated with a Ronny Yu joint, it’s fairly drab looking. One exception is this pretty cool angle:

And the few times you see the ghost they composite her in front of other images and I like how that looks:

Angie finds out that a singer shot herself to death in the apartment. She reads about her, buys her record and a poster of her, starts painting her fingernails and lips like her. It’s all building to a supernatural climax that seems surprisingly dark, but maybe our guys have a trick up their sleeves and maybe what really went down will be explained with little flashbacks like a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie. Who knows? The point is it is not my favorite Ronny Yu movie, but not as bad as I feared when I went to rent a Hong Kong ghost comedy. I liked THE TRAIL way better, but he had to try out different things, get some practice in.

Coming next week (either before or after a couple very important new release action movies): MUMMY DEAREST (1985)

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 23rd, 2023 at 11:44 am and is filed under Reviews, Comedy/Laffs, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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