Director: O Canta Pui
Cast: Sammo Hung Kam Bo, Tommy Wong Kwong Leung, Fennie Yuen, Yu Li, Roy Cheung, Shing Fui On, Terrence Fok, James Ha, Frankie Ng, William Ho Kakui
Duration: 90 mins.
By Henry McKand
The legacy of Sammo Hung’s work with Jackie Chan is so massive that it’s easy to forget what a diverse filmography he has. In a sense, there are many Sammos. You have the round yet agile martial artist who backed up Jackie in classic Golden Harvest kung fu comedies. Then you have Sammo as an American television star (martial law), Sammo as Rambo (Eastern condors), Sammo as a stoic elder statesman (SPL AND IP Man 2), Sammo as the dramatic protagonist (Painting Faces), and Sammo as one of the most in-demand fight choreographers in the world (basically every other martial arts movie you’ll ever see).
Interestingly, there is a Sammo that hasn’t seen much popularity in the West. I’m talking of course about horror comedy innovator Sammo Hung. His work on films such as Encounters of the spooky kind revolutionized not only the Chinese vampire, but also the very concept of entertaining monster movies. Its forays into horror-tinged material have been hugely successful in Hong Kong, spawning franchises such as the Mister Vampire series, but have mostly been considered cult curiosity abroad.
So, it should come as no surprise that one of the only ways to watch My flying wifea ghost game starring Sammo from ’91, is a medium quality YouTube rip with barely intelligible English subtitles. I say this because it is probably impossible to see the film as it was intended: in a crowded Hong Kong cinema full of fans who could have fully understood its comedic subtleties. But while a good deal of the jokes get lost in translation, My flying wife offers a sizable portion of HK’s horror inventiveness.
The film, directed by O Sing-Pui, blends a contemporary world of low-level triads with a bizarre tale of possession and reincarnation. Sammo is in his comfortable “anxious goofball” mode as Qu, a Triad leader idolized by his mostly benevolent group of young newcomers. A hapless woman named Helen (Fennie Yuen) sends him money, and so he sends an underling, Chung (Shui-Wah Fok), to collect the debt without realizing that Helen is preparing to leap to her death.
No one knows that a group of shady ghosts are planning to harvest Helen’s soul after her death so that a spiteful spirit named Siu-Hung (Li Yu) can be reincarnated. But when Chung and the triads finally foil Helen’s suicide plan, they find themselves at odds with the villains of the afterlife. To fight back, they enlist the help of a blind friend named Fatt (Tommy Wong) who is supposedly an expert in paranormal matters. This is before they even realize that Siu-Hung has a past life connection to Sammo’s Qu. Before long, Chung falls for Helen while Qu explores his connection with Siu-Hung.
Ok, so maybe it is mashed potato inventive. At just 90 minutes, it’s chock full of characters and gags, and not all of them work. It eventually settles into a groove, but the setup is confusing. This is not to mention the tonal flick in its first half, which was common in Hong Kong comedies of the time. It is a rare film that manages to effectively combine stories of forbidden love, cute ghost children, an extravagant blind mystic, forced prostitution, triad squabbles, AND Sammo Hung uses a wet rag to cosplay a god. My flying wife it may not be that rare film, but it comes much closer than you might think.
Fans of this subgenre know that narrative details aren’t what count, and O Sing-Pui rightly focuses on insane comedy scenes that highlight Sammo’s charm and physicality. No matter how over-the-top the paranormal story gets, Sammo’s comedic timing and good-guy lovability is what sells the action. He gets some serious help from Tommy Wong, whose commitment to silliness leads to most of the scenes cracking bangs.
Even compared to other similar films in the “spooky comedy” subgenre, My flying wife it’s a disarmingly good-natured film, which is surprising given its flippant (and even offensive) tone. At the end of the day, it’s a rom-com more than anything, and its parallel romances are more important than any supposed scares.
These “scares” amount to little more than comic relief ghosts wearing pancake makeup, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is a kids’ movie with a raunchy look. But the shortcomings are easily forgotten when Sammo gets a chance to show off his kung fu or cup her on camera when something crazy happens. As always, it’s a pleasure to watch, which makes My flying wife a simple recommendation for Sammo diehards… although it’s hard to find a decent version.
Rating by Henry McKeand: 6.5/10