Funny Ghost: A So-Awful-It's-Good Comedy Snapshot of 80s Hong Kong
Funny Ghost starring Hong Kong comedy legend Sandra Ng is mean, gross and awful but also a hilarious time capsule of 1980s Hong Kong.
We stumbled upon Funny Ghost (1989), a 1989 Hong Kong comedy starring national treasure Sandra Ng, who's pretty much Hong Kong's answer to Carol Burnett and a bit of Jim Carrey before there was a Jim Carrey, and is now a highly respected actor, producer and director. It's a fascinating movie from a lost time, the type they don't make anymore, and one that would give the woke crowd several aneurysms, not just from the big hair, shoulder pads, and 80s fashion disasters on display.
Financially ruined and penniless, bar hostess Yue and her failed yuppy best friend Ngoh try to kill themselves by jumping in front of cars. Their attempts to throw themselves into oncoming traffic fail miserably, so Yue jumps off a building. A few floors down, Triad boss Hung, gets an urn containing the ashes of a pregnant woman who was raped and murdered and her unborn fetus, believing it would bring him luck and magical protection. When he gets into a fight with his henchmen, Hung accidentally tosses the urn out the window into Yue's hands; she gets chased by loan sharks, a bumbling hitman, incompetent gangsters, and moronic undercover cops, all after the urn. For a movie called "Funny Ghost," no ghost appears until the last ten minutes! And here's a pro tip you probably haven't heard of. Apparently, waving your underwear at a ghost works better than a crucifix against a vampire! (No, don't try this at home.)
Funny Ghost and Lost Hong Kong
Tasteless and mean-spirited slapstick rules Funny Ghost. Sandra Ng's heroine Yue is a hilariously greedy, selfish asshole out to make every fast buck she can, be it trying to con her best friend into writing her a check, using a magic urn to mind control her co-workers and rip them off, then telling them to make more by posing for nudie magazines (not shown, since this was Hong Kong's version of a PG rating from the 1980s – the kids there could put up with a lot), defaulting to a suicide pact with her best friend the moment they go broke. It's all carried by Ng's gleeful comic energy. This is a brand of Hong Kong comedy that Westerners rarely see but is familiar to all Chinese people worldwide. It's pretty much the same type of rapid-fire comedy Steven Chow Sing-Chi started out in. Funny Ghost has a barely coherent plot that's an excuse to string together a series of comedy sketches led by Ng doing a variety of different schtick, including weird accents and costumes like a whole night of SNL.
A True "What the Hell Did I Just See?!" Movies
Funny Ghost is absolutely terrible, but Sandra Ng's slapstick comedy is always fun to watch. It's 90 minutes of cheap jokes, including sexism and homophobia, and cheap slapstick, but it offers a snapshot of pre-1997 Hong Kong, especially working-class Hong Kong, in all its rude, mean, snarky, nasty splendor. Before Hong Kong movies started striving more for aspirational respectability and legitimacy in the 21st Century, good taste was considered optional, something only rich people could afford. It's the opposite of the sentimental, nice "let's stick together" portrayal of Chinese working-class life that China's trying to push these days. Everyone is horrible, mean, rude, self-serving, money-grubbing, and superstitious as hell. And gleefully so. Oh, and people get killed very casually in this movie. This movie is entirely batshit insane – the writers on SNL can only wish they could write like this if they snorted copious amounts of cocaine and coffee, were told they wouldn't be censored, and were kept awake all night writing until their brains bled out their noses. Only the Troma movies from Lloyd Kaufman came close to being this ridiculous, but even they didn't cross the lines this movie does.
So why have we spent so many words on an insanely ridiculous and stupid movie called Funny Ghost, where the ghost is the least funny thing in it (but still hilarious as a murderous straight man)? Because it shows us that raucous, anarchic, anything-goes Hong Kong spirit that's been steadily muted since the handover to China. We see movies hoping to see something new. How many movies do you know to offer a whole new WTF moment every five minutes?
Let's see Hollywood try to remake this!
A digitally remastered version of Funny Ghost is streaming for free on YouTube.