Hell Bank Presents: Running Ghost (PG13)
Starring Wong You Nam, Cecilia So, Jerry Lamb, Zeno Koo
Directed by Mark Lee
Here's the thing.
This Hongkong ghost comedy is billed as being directed by our own Mark Lee, but you’ll be wondering exactly where he stood behind the camera.
Because this flick looks just like a typical HK ghost comedy from those silly, campy Happy Ghost days of circa 1980s-90s, and you know those shows basically look so generic that even a real spook could’ve have directed them, right? It also means that this originally Cantonese movie loses more than half of its lingual and zing-ual verve when it gets translated into the Mandarin-dubbed version here.
The big update in the tired formula is that there’s a noisy game show called Running Ghost played enthusiastically by the spirits in what looks like hip hell since it’s so frenetically in-your-face madcap and filled with AYA. Aiyah, it means “Annoying Young Adults” lah. Seriously, what kind of damnation is so manifestly cruel that even dead folks still like to play games egged on by HK’s Ah Bengs and Ah Lians?
Running Ghost, geddit? Like in Running Man game show? And, as advertised here, it’s even sponsored by Cemetery Plex Cinemas and Starducks Coffin. Boy, I feel so heartland housewife-y even relaying to you this lame joke from the show.
Maybe even the director — Mark Lee, right? Apparently, he did this show in 2019 — knows the limits of this clear and present irritation of too many young punks. Which is why the story puts a more tolerable, less OTT sad-sack loser as its central character.
Wong You Nam (Ip Man) plays Wong Hiu Kwai, a nerdy, seriously passive, zero-achieving IT cable installer who doesn’t even know how he died. Hey, I know a laid-off guy in our jobless-bum times who also went through this exact same thing. He doesn’t know how his career died too.
Man, how much more suffering and personal humiliation do they want this recently deceased dude, Wong, to endure? A dead cable guy? Plus checking out clueless is a big no-no in our superstitious Asian spirit world because, as the wise saying here goes, “the most important thing in life is to know how we die”.
I actually thought that the most important thing is to make sure that audiences laugh and don’t grow restless and bored by a comedy. But I digress. And yes, ancestral tablets and computer tablets get a jokey reference here.
Anyway, in order to get reincarnated which is the dream move of any gui (“ghost” in Hokkien), the spooks compete in Running Ghost which evidently is a huge ratings hit Really Really Down Under since it looks just like any Chinese-style game show, but with more ghoulish faces and weirder hair.
Oh, wait. I may have to take this back since, believe me, I’ve seen some truly scary live people in those game shows on TV who still haunt me to this day.
The contestants must do three things — scare people in the world of the living until they faint, next possess them, and then ultimately kill a living person. Fulfill all these three tasks and they’ll jump straight to the top of the queue to be reincarnated. Kinda like HK's extremely belated take on the Michael Keaton classic, Beetlejuice, which lived and died only about 33 years ago back in 1988.
Otherwise, “you could die a few more times and would still be waiting” for a rebirth, or as a smartass puts it, it's “a longer wait than Hongkong’s social housing”. That’s HK political humour right here. Although my fave is the one that says the dreaded 18th level of hell is located right at the basement of the Chief Executive’s building.
Wong, picked as a most reluctant game show participant by a garish, white-suited mentor named — I kid you not — General Bull (Jerry Lamb from Young and Dangerous), is so bad and useless at being a ghost that even other ghosts frighten him. It’s quite funny to see him scolded by a pissed-off grandma gui when he tries to scare her woeful grandson at an outdoor park. Wong has to unleash some horror pretty quickly because his main competitor, Brother Mad, is a real nasty fella who doesn’t think twice about killing his own targets.
By the way, I say “woeful” because, apparently, only folks down on their luck can see spooks. “Only unlucky people can see us”, someone tells Wong who’s issued with a “Fat-bit” wristwatch with an app to pinpoint the most downtrodden living souls-victims.
Okay, I can hereby swear that this unverified underworld fact is total bulls**t because I haven’t won a single cent in Toto, I’m absolutely woeful and miserable, and I still can't see any demised thing except my empty and very dead wallet.
Now, the only friend our poor sap Wong has is a cute, spunky livewire gal, Chiu Ling Kay (Cecilia So from Agent Mr. Chan), who's alive in more ways than one in this flick. As a cool eccentric medium who can see, banter and do everything with Wong like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, she’s the much needed Energizer bunny to Wong’s flattened-out, dead-battery passiveness. The chick even buys a paper hoverboard to burn for him so that he can float around as a spirit. Boy, you’d definitely wish for such a lovely, considerate sweetie in sickness, in health and, you got it, in death.
While the guy pines for his still-living sweetheart, Bo Yee (Venus Wong), who surely would know exactly how he conked out, Chiu longs lovingly and guiltily for her father who fell off a tree and died while trying to retrieve a kite for her when she was a little girl. It’s sad, I tell you, the things a dad has to do. Especially when ladders can’t be carried around in a pants pocket.
Bo Yee now takes up with a good-looking but bland real estate chap, which allows for a cut-rate stigmatised-property boo segment here that’s better than the recent Japanese horror flick, Stigmatized Properties.
I’m not going to give this story and its twist away — yep, even a nutty ghost comedy can have a twist — except to say that this movie about the dead comes very much alive whenever the bubbly So pushes the blah Wong to do something as a budding boyfriend-girlfriend combo.
To the extent that the guy somehow even gets some kind of zappy electrical super power as he turns into Electro: Happy Ghost Version. Hint: he can't remember how he died, remember?
Now, in its original Cantonese, this Running Ghost would’ve been, I’m very certain, a more natural satirical riot.
It’s better than I’d imagined, especially with its fairly unsentimental ending which is not quite what I expected.
Even when I forget quite readily that, right behind the camera over there somewhere, actually stood Mark Lee. (**)
Photo: mm2 Entertainment