Out of the Dark
aka Wui wan yeh
Written and directed by Jeff Lau Chun-Wai
Stephen Chow is known as one of the funniest people to come out of the Hong Kong film industry. His films have become favorites around the globe and he has legions of fans. Chow’s mo lei tau films cross all sorts of genres, from spies to action to historical to gambling to sports. People argue over which of his films are the best. But one film that rarely is brought up is Out of the Dark, and here at TarsTarkas.NET we believe that is a crime. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that Out of the Dark is my favorite Stephen Chow film. But it isn’t a non-stop wacky film, it’s a comedy that’s also a pretty spooky ghost film with a very high body count. Most of the look, costumes, and even a few character names are ganked from Besson’s Leon: The Professional. Heck, there’s even a plant! Director Jeff Lau previously directed several ghost movies, and Chow in the Chinese Odyssey flicks. He moved on to Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg among other films.
Out of the Dark doesn’t fit the mold of the normal mo lei tau films, it spends time transcending the genre of wackiness while simultaneously embracing it (yes, that’s possible!) Out of the Dark shows much of the genius later captured by Kung Fu Hustle as a mo lei tau that is more. But instead of following a hero arc, we instead follow a group of people caught up in the sins of an evil family and their revenges from beyond the grave. There are kids brandishing knives, creepy old ladies, possessions, and the one man crazy enough to not be scared of this crap. Someone’s gotta bust ghosts and take up where Lam Ching-Ying left off! So let’s get our Dark on!
We begin with a cadre of security officers at an apartment complex, who have to deal with the renters tossing things out the window. Important security officers to remember are: Captain Lu – head of the group, two guards who only speak Mandarin and thus cause much merriment from translation issues, and Tieh Dan – suicidal guard whose wife has just left him.
Among the tenants is Qun, a lovelorn woman getting over her latest breakup (from Johnny, why are they always named Johnny?) who stumbles across Mrs. Li praying to an offering to their recently dead mother in law. Of course, MIL may be dead, but this is a ghost movie, so she’s soon back, living in the TV and possessing the Li kid and attempting to kill Mr. and Mrs. Li out of revenge. Luckily, Leon is in the building, and scares off the possessed kid and eventually manages to free him of the grandmother. Before anything else can happen, Leon is quickly dragged away by guys in white suits back to the mental institution!
Qun goes to look for him, and he explains his life history. Qun is dressed as Natalie Portman straight outta The Professional, matching Leon’s Leon costume. Captain Lu stumbles across Old Lady Li’s ghost, who explains she was murdered by the Lis, who show up with knives to kill Captain Lu (and another tenant who spends most of the film being horribly injured in comedic fashion.) Leon arrives just in time to kill both the Lis, Mrs. Li managing to put on a red shirt before she dies, assuring her return as a particularly nasty ghost. Leon’s attempts to revive her work, but she just kills herself again and again. Both of them will soon be back for revenge.
Leon is then brought on to teach the security team and Qun how to deal with ghosts (and bonus teammate Lee Kin-Yan once again dressed as a girl), this is among the funniest parts of the film. Ways to catch ghosts include trapping them in shrink wrap and you can see ghosts if you rub cow tears above your eyes.
Mrs Li’s spirit returns and starts knocking off security guards with such Nightmare on Elm Street kills such as fan blades and a microwave room boiling a man alive. Leon explains these are just illusions, and people are being frightened to death. The survivors attempt to control their fear despite illusions such as hands in toilets, blood in the sink, and ghost possession. The Lis possessing characters and running around in the dark apartment complex hallways are pretty creepy.
But most of the security team bites it when Mr. Li gets a chainsaw, and despite banana peels and origami flying helmets, things don’t go the heroes’ way without a sacrifice. The ending wraps up things rather nicely, being true to the universe it set up. And then we get goofs during the closing credits, to turn the tone once again on its ears.
The various twists of Out of the Dark as it jumps from silly to serious to back again are well executed, and it walks the razor’s edge just fine. The tightrope job is admirable, and is part of the reason I like it so well. Even with the ending, it doesn’t swing so far in either direction that things are ruined and it fits perfectly with what happened up prior. I know declaring Out of the Dark so good is controversial, but that’s just something you’ll have to deal with, because it just is that damn good. But I fear it will never get the recognition it deserves.
Rated 9/10 (shrine doll, circle of life, Old Lady Li, Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, Red Ghost Rising, girl mode, appendix, guy mode)