MUMMY DEAREST (Si yan zai) is from 1985, and it’s another one of the Ronny Yu movies that’s never been available in the U.S. I had initially skipped it while writing this series until I found an affordable English-subtitled VCD. The bad news is it’s not about a mummy, the good news is it’s pretty entertaining. It kind of takes the serious horror + broad comedy formula of THE TRAIL and THE OCCUPANT but switches out supernatural chills for a serial killer story, with a maniac similar to the one in THE SAVIOUR.
The killer is played by Alan Tam (ARMOUR OF GOD), which I think may have been a bit of stunt casting. Maybe I’m wrong, I can’t find out enough about his early filmography to be sure he’d never played a psycho before, but he had started as a Cantopop star, known for singing romantic ballads. There’s even a joke about it in the movie when another character uses the titles of Alan Tam songs to hit on his character’s mother.
Although he does in fact know at least 1 (one) girl, Alan Lee Kam Lun’s attitudes are similar to what we would now call an incel. A smart young employee at a “computer firm,” he constantly talks about “high IQs” and tries to prove that he’s smarter than everyone else. In one of his first scenes he’s watching “the whizkids competition” game show on TV and is really proud that he answers a question that the kid contestants can’t. “Kids stuff,” he says. Before that we saw him talking to his psychiatrist (Chui San-Yee, THE STORY OF DRUNKEN MASTER), who he convinces he wants to kill for knowing more than him, and makes him beg for his life by pointing a gun that turns out to be a lighter. Not a good person.
He sure thinks he is, though, and so does his mom, (Tang Pik-Wan, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT), who he lives with. She hassles him about not having a girlfriend, but he has a date with Julie (Joann Tang Lai-Ying, EVIL CAT) from work. She likes him enough to help him win bets against the other programmers by wearing sunglasses so he can read their screens in the reflection. And he’s going to have dinner with her and her parents.
But before that he goes alone to The In Place Pub & Dancing, where a drunk named Master Ying (Tai Bo, ENTER THE DRAGON, YES, MADAM!) is trying to procure the company of a trans woman dancer, because he’s gotten bored of “beautiful girls” and “handsome men.” They don’t have any trans women working there, so a woman has to pretend to be one. Meanwhile, some junkie (Lim Chan Sek-Lim, PRISON ON FIRE) gets in an argument with his mother (Lam Yuk-Wah, A CERTAIN ROMANCE), one of the prostitutes working there, about money. She won’t give it to him, so he throws things at her. Master Ying tries to heroically intervene, and yells that he’s going to kill him, but he’s too drunk to be successful (because his pants get hooked on the bar).
Alan is watching all this from the shadows, and he’s furious. He follows the junkie through the streets, the deep synth drones and electric guitars building tension (music by Danny Chung, EASTERN CONDORS), until the man goes into the “Gents Toilet” to shoot up. Alan kicks in the door of the toilet stall and tells him, “I hate those people who take drugs and hit their mothers! If you do it again I will kill you!” When the addict tries to fight back Alan knocks him backwards, he hits his head and falls face first into the toilet, where he drowns. Whoops.
So you see, Alan has stumbled his way into becoming one of those moralistic, themed killers like in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, THE STEPFATHER or THE DENTIST, where his theme is that he kills people who disrespect or abuse their mothers. He also hates drug addicts. During a conversation with his mother later that cuts to a flashback similar to the one in THE SAVIOUR, we learn that this stems from his coke-addict dad hitting and choking his mother in front of him when he was little. We also learn that his mother became a singer, which reminded me of the ghost in THE OCCUPANT, but the detail never turns out to be very important.
Master Ying is arrested under suspicion of killing the guy found dead in the toilet, since witnesses heard him threatening him, but Inspector Pang (Bennett Pang, IN THE LINE OF DUTY III) knows better. He tells a reporter that “The killer is very low IQ, maybe impotent,” and the gambit works – Alan immediately calls to demand an apology. When he explains that it was an accident but the guy deserved it for hitting his mother, the Inspector jokes that his wife must deserve to be killed then because she slapped her mother. So Alan is like, “all righty, then,” and promises to kill the guy’s wife.
The cops rush to a hospital where said wife is in for surgery. Sure enough, Alan is there. They think they see him dragging a body down a scary hallway lit with red lights, but when they get there it’s only a dummy left to distract them. (Man, this guy has really plunged head first into this new murder hobby. He’s going all out.) When they run back to the hospital room Alan is attacking, dressed as a female nurse! After a scuffle he slips out in his underwear, leaving the uniform on the wife, who’s alive but unconscious from being strangled. Just like Master Ying before him, the Inspector gets blamed for this, since he’d jokes about his wife deserving to be killed.
(Fellas, ladies, everybody – don’t joke about your wife deserving to be killed.)
The inspector believes the best person to catch the real killer is someone he calls “Teacher,” and others call Inspector Bill (Bill Tung, also Inspector/Uncle Bill in POLICE STORY 1, 2 and 3 and RUMBLE IN THE BRONX). He finds him in a row boat out on a lake, watching a young woman’s jiggling boobs through binoculars. He thinks the woman waves to him, but she turns out to be waving at her husband, who comes up behind them with a machete and chases them in Benny Hill-style wacky fast speed.
When Alan goes to dinner with Julie and her family, her mom (Jue Sing-Choi, THE SECRET) and dad (Foo Want-Tat, A BETTER TOMORROW III) seem to want to marry her off. They encourage Alan to buy a flat while prices are low and “start a world of your own” – and he absolutely flips out at the implication that it would be nice to not have to live with his mom anymore! He gets even more angry when he sees Inspector Bill on TV accusing the toilet killer of killing a dog and saying he must be such a sicko he’d kill his parents too.
As expected, Alan immediately calls in to yell at the Inspector. Using that technology that exists in Movie World they keep him on the line long enough to trace it to a particular area of the city, and they hear church bells in the background of the call, so they speed to the one church located within that area. At first it seems like they caught him, but it’s a priest they arrest. Alan is outside smoking a cigarette and watching.
But then he looks up to a bridge where Inspector Bill is also having a cigarette, and watching him! A legitimately badass moment. Bill comes down and they have one of those “we’re pretending to have a friendly conversation but we both know it’s not a friendly conversation” conversations, Alan complaining that he has no one with a high IQ to pit himself against. They meet at In Place to play (literal) chess, and once again an addict gets in an argument with his mother. But Mr. High IQ Alan knows it’s staged to try to set him off. He doesn’t fall for it, and brags about the handheld machine he invented that somehow messes up all the tape recorders that the various cops disguised as customers are trying to record him with.
This is where it gets more goofy. Alan’s mom tells him about a dream she had about a man in all white on a white horse. And then Inspector Bill shows up at the door with flowers, wearing a white suit, so we get to see a flashback to her dream, and it’s him riding a horse in slow motion like the cover of a romance novel. He claims to be Alan’s godfather, and also a fortune teller, palm reader and feng shui expert. He tells her her fortune based on the things he knows about her and her son from the investigation. He’s trying to woo Alan’s mom to get to him, kinda like how Chow Yun-Fat’s character in THE OCCUPANT wooed Angie while chasing a pickpocket. I don’t know, Inspector Bill. Seems unethical.
Bill is still there when Alan gets home. Alan plays along with him being his godfather, but gives him tea that’s drugged to make him have to shit. Then he tells his mom Bill is a sex maniac and the toilet killer. The next time Bill comes over with flowers she chases him off with a machete, so he has himself delivered into her house inside a wardrobe. Also unethical. But he wins her over, they go on a date represented by a montage of driving, playing video games, and teaching her to play pool, and then she tells Alan that they’re engaged and taking a trip to Thailand.
Bill and mummy dearest seem to genuinely like each other, but in my opinion this is not a good way to start a relationship. The hope behind the Thailand trip is that Alan will try to kill him at the airport and they can arrest him, which just seems to me would make make the wedding awkward. Anyway Alan doesn’t do that, he seems to wish them well on their trip. Bill is surprised, but not exactly disappointed. He realizes now he can just be off duty and go on the romantic trip – that’s great! But then he finds out that Alan told his mom he’d take care of Bill’s mother (Chan Lap-Ban, SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW) while he was gone – an obvious threat. He ditches the trip to race to his mom’s house.
Either I misread some of this and Bill is actually multiple steps ahead of Alan, or he thinks and sets up things with impossible quickness. Alan does show up at Bill’s mom’s house and bang on the door, but she threatens him with a shotgun, so he slips away. Spying from above, Alan sees Bill arriving, hears his mom blasting through the door with the shotgun, then sees the authorities carry a body covered in a bloody sheet into an ambulance, followed by Bill’s mom in her wheelchair. It seems fucked up for a minute but as the ambulance pulls away they’re inside smoking cigars and laughing because the whole thing was staged.
And it gets crazier! Rather than lay low like he’s dead, Bill goes to Alan’s mom’s place, apologizes about abandoning her at the airport, and then knocks her out with drugged tea! When Alan comes home and opens the door a string pulls the trigger on a gun (blanks, I guess?) and makes him think it killed his mom. He falls for the trick, really believes that Bill has set him up to kill his own mother in retaliation for trying to kill Bill’s mother, and as they fight he gets him to confess to the toilet murder.
I don’t know how, but for me the serious thriller aspects are still pretty effective despite all the wackiness. Like the killer in SAVIOUR, Alan is a vivid portrait of a specific type of psychologically damaged young male, whose violence is driven by a fucked up interpretation of traditional morality, a counterpart to many American slasher movie villains. So it’s kind of weird how nice Inspector Bill is to Alan at the end, letting him tell his mom he’s going away for a three year job, never letting her find out he’s going to prison for murder. I know Bill just does it out of love for Alan’s mom, but his comforting words to the kid seem sincere. “Time flies. It’ll be over soon.”
He gets him with a great punchline, though. As they’re taking Alan away in cuffs Bill says, “Hey! Don’t worry – I’ll take care of your mom!” If you know what I mean. Freeze frame. The end. Good shit.
An odd thing I noticed while researching Yu is that the dream about the white horse is likely inspired by a reoccurring dream he says he has whenever he’s stressed. It started when he visited a monk during the filming of THE OCCUPANT.
“He said that I had been involved with a white horse in my previous life. From then on, whenever I am under stress I have this dream of being a general in armor, in old China. A general that likes to conquer places and kill people. I am riding a white horse. Then my horse is knocked down in battle and I fall off and my leg is broken. Me and my men are surrounded, many spears are pointing at us. I look at one of my men and he says: We’re dead. Then I wake up. This happens every time I am under stress. So I asked a monk what this means, and he said: This is payback. In your previous life you were bloodthirsty, you had no consideration for human life. In this life you have to suffer. That’s why you’ve had polio.”
Okay, that’s a little heavier and more involved than the white horse dream here! This is an oddball movie, a fun time, but certainly not one of Yu’s classier or more stylish joints. It has some crazy opening credits set to a pop rock theme song, with clips that do not turn out to be from later in the movie, involving lots of sunglasses. And Alan has a Darth Vader mask in his bedroom that we never see again. That, and having his own computer, probly signalled serious nerd-dom at the time. He’s a killer nerd.
Having tried his hand at horror and thrillers for a while, Yu would next turn his attention back to the martial arts genre of THE POSTMAN STRIKES BACK, but this time in a contemporary setting, for one of the most straight ahead action movies of his career. Tomorrow: Brandon Lee stars in LEGACY OF RAGE (1986).
March 29th, 2023 at 2:05 pm
Given its obscurity, I’m surprised to say that at some point I did see this. Unfortunately, I am not surprised to say that once I realized the “mummy” was just the sort of British version of “mommy” and not in fact an actual mummy, nothing this movie could do was going to win me over.