Out of the Dark [回魂夜] (1995)

Starring Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Wong Yat-Fei, Lee Lik-Chi, Lo Hung, Ben Wong Chi-Yin, Lee Kin-Yan, Heung Dip, Chow Chi-Fai, Tam Suk-Mui, Hau Woon-Ling, Leung Kar-Yan

Directed by Jeff Lau Chun-Wai

Out of the Dark is a great horror comedy to watch during the Halloween season, but describing it is going to be a little difficult. The film moves at absolute breakneck speed, and if you’re not ready the jokes, characters and plot alike will all fly past you before you even have time to notice they were there. I watched the first 15 minutes three times and I noticed new things and developed a better understanding every time. At this point, I’ve seen hundreds of Hong Kong films but this one really threw me! It is with movies like this where the language barrier hinders enjoyment the most, but if you’re able to lock into the groove of Out of the Dark, it’s a truly hilarious and transcendent film experience.

Out of the Dark centers around a Hong Kong apartment building and its inhabitants. An elderly resident has recently died, but her spirit is not ready to leave the building just yet. She haunts the apartment she shared with her son and his family, and she’s looking for revenge on those that caused her death. Enter Stephen Chow’s character Leon (one of the film’s references to Luc Besson’s The Professional), an odd guy who dresses in all black and talks to a lily plant he carries around in a pot. Together with the building’s ragtag security team and a few residents, Leon looks to help the spirit achieve her goal of justice.

This is kind of a broad description of the overall story, but it doesn’t do justice to the way that everything unfolds and develops. Like many Hong Kong films of the ’80s and ’90s, Out of the Dark can’t be categorized or boiled down into a sentence or two. It is many things at once, and the skill with which all the elements are brought together here is nothing short of amazing. It is edited to absolute perfection, with sharp comedic timing and not a single extraneous moment to slow it down. To craft a film as quick and energetic as this requires supreme skill, and director Jeff Lau is most definitely up to the task. Lau previously directed Chow in his star-making God of Gamblers parody All for the Winner, as well as the two Chinese Odyssey films (which were both released a few months prior to Out of the Dark in 1995).

My love of Stephen Chow has really blossomed over the last couple of years, but going into Out of the Dark with an expectation of Chow’s usual comic mania will lead to disappointment. The movie is bursting with more energy than a nuclear reactor, but the humor is pretty dark and unlike anything else I’ve seen from Stephen Chow. For instance, one scene shows a man stabbed repeatedly, and contrary to how that might sound, it’s absolutely hilarious! But to get back to our star, you barely even see his face during the film! For the most part he’s hiding behind sunglasses and a hat, and there’s a long stretch that has him wearing exaggerated, fake teeth. Oddly enough, this actually helps to disconnect the film from any kind of traditional Stephen Chow expectations.

Out of the Dark is a unique film that won me over completely after I adjusted to its style and pace. It’s darkly hilarious, but unafraid to dive deep into the horrific, creepy vibe of the best horror films, making it an excellent choice for Halloween!