His resume now holding over two hundred credits as an actor, to say nothing of his work as a director, stunt performer or stunt arranger, it is little surprise that some of the back catalogue of Sammo Hung has never officially been released in the UK on any home media format, an oversight which Eureka continue to address with their Blu-ray of The Dead and the Deadly on their Eureka Classics label.
Originally released in 1982 and hoping to cash in on the success of Encounters of the Spooky Kind from two years earlier, in his accompanying commentary The Dead and the Deadly is described by Frank Djeng of the New York Asian Film Festival as “a supernatural martial arts comedy murder mystery,” though the puzzle is less who has committed the crimes, the characters and their motivations apparent almost as soon as they are introduced, but what is actually going on.
Opening with what may be a dream or what may have been a thwarted attempt by “Fat Boy” Chu Wong-lee (Hung) to shame a cheating widow and her lover by masquerading as the ghost of her late husband, in the morning Chu, who sells paper goods for funeral ceremonies, finds that Ma Lucho (Once Upon a Time in China‘s Wu Ma who also directs) has died; heirless, his fortune will pass to the state, but his younger wife claims to be pregnant with a child who can claim the substantial estate.
Uncertain as to how Ma Lucho died and suspecting foul play, Chu infiltrates the funeral parlour disguised as one of his own paper effigies but nothing is as it seems, the old man who faked his own death in hopes of receiving “grave goods” of worth and now having to maintain the presence, while his family who seek to profit take measures to ensure that his passing is permanent for reasons of their own.
The dead manipulating the living, physically and emotionally, The Dead and the Deadly (人嚇人, Rén xiàrén, more directly translated as People Scare People) is the typical knockabout shenanigans associated with Hung, aided by Mr. Vampire’s Lam Ching-ying as the priest who understands the ways of ghosts and An Autumn’s Tale’s Cherie Chung as Yuen, betrothed of Chu but almost incidental until the final act when she takes the lead, standing up against the guardians of the underworld.
An uneven film filled with the rituals of death and the cultural norms of 1885, stealing gold teeth from the dead and slapping a distressed pregnant woman for laughs, The Dead and the Deadly is supported by two commentaries, from Djeng and his friend Michael Worth and action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, Cantonese and dubbed English audio options and two archive segments with Sammo Hung from the 2016 Udine Far East Film Festival.