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Thunder Cops (1987)
Director: Lui Chan Wai
review by Richard Bowden
Thunder Cops (aka: Meng Gui da Sha; Operation Pink Squad Part 2) is a frenetic horror farce, on the edge of genre expectations for western audiences. It's a film characteristic of cut-rate Hong Kong exploitation cinema, where wacky comedy and slapstick farce frequently intrude into horror, even if the resulting films are sometimes brainlessly embarrassing. This blissfully surreal title succeeds against expectation, being surprisingly very successful, full of effective helter-skelter humour and bizarre knockabout invention. Its closest to the fast paced ghoulish glee of such films as Re-Animator (1985) or The Frighteners (1996), and although Thunder Cops looks much cheaper, its fast pace and sheer nuttiness makes these cult items seem lumbering beside. How Operation Pink Squad 1 (by all accounts a much more conservative film) triggered the excess on offer here would be worth discovering. What is certain is that the sequel is so over the top, so barmy, that it would have made any more instalments in the series redundant as anticlimax - and in fact this was the last one produced.
Thunder Cops' main narrative concerns a police sting, albeit organised in a haunted building, together with some matrimonial infighting. It's a slender set up, almost incidental to a narrative predicated around comedy and shock, rather than suspense and arrest. There are some familiar characters here, at least to those knowing this part of eastern cinema: the ridiculous husband who thinks he is a cuckold, the tough gangster, the brave Buddhist priest battling demons, the giggling coquettish women in supporting roles, and so on. As Min, the man who thinks his policewoman wife is working as a prostitute while sleeping with her commanding officer, Man Cheung is suitably outraged and cowardly. (Occasionally he looks like Anthony Wong, the Hong Kong actor famous for psycho roles, which adds to his persona nicely). Earlier there are some nicely judged moments as, after bugging his wife to learn of her adultery, he comically misunderstands some police business discussed between her and her officer 'lover'. Later he will be forced to confront his mistake - just as he will be repeatedly humiliated, for instance being forced to suck the toes of a female ghost to avoid death. Meanwhile, as his wife and the rest of the team set up their operation and await the arrival of a tough counterfeiter, a Buddhist priest and a landlady battle against ghosts in the apartment block. Gathering up evil essences in special ghost-buster sacks (to deposit them behind a convenient door to hell), one sack is dropped. As the police gather, a rogue female spirit begins to torment them, the Buddhist priest, and the counterfeiter they seek...
Most of the establishing plot is just a pretext for the frantic comedy terror that follows. In these earlier scenes, the double entendres, broad sexual gags; wives hiding from husbands, etc. suggest humorous farce at play rather than evil forces at work. Even the Buddhist monk's initial encounter with a persistent ghost is punctuated by some comic misunderstandings and banter, in which the landlady of the building imagines that he is making a pass (in fact he is appraising and lunging at the spook just behind). Following this there are laugh-out-loud moments as the vengeful spirit pursues the unlucky undercover cops - at first with, then without, her head. Much of this tomfoolery is sustained by some excellent timing in the editing department, so important when dealing with action of this kind, teetering on the edge of the absurd. The special effects work is generally effective, although clearly done on the cheap. There are one or two touches of gore - especially when the chief ghoul meets her demise, and in suitably dramatic manner - but as befitting a category II film, these are fairly restrained. None of the performances are more than adequate, with the exception of the splendidly gruff-tough counterfeiter, but there again in a vehicle of this sort thespian subtlety is wasted.
The rest of the film contains some truly jaw dropping moments, notably when the ghostly head is chased up and down corridors by a surprise flight of model helicopters. (Yes, you read that correctly.) And there's the amazing finale too which, in its inspired lunacy, is not so far from musical madness of Takashi Ichii's Happiness Of The Katakuris) aka: Katakuri-ke no kôfuku, 2001). Thunder Cops is a film whose peculiar eastern pandemonium deserves to be better known, and would stand repeated late night viewings. I recommend it.
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