Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Use of Tropes: Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus was a Hong Kong movie from 1984 that was directed by Yuet-Sang Chin. It involves a travelling Chinese opera company that gets more than it bargained for when it discovers that the theatre it is performing in is haunted. However, as always, things aren’t that simple.

At first it is a (partially-)action comedy which sees young actor Kuei (Wei Tung) and his pals in the opera interacting and winding each other up. This includes things about ghosts – such as convincing one reprobate who peed on a funeral jar to apologise and making him eat urine-soaked dirt. They also have an ongoing feud with arrogant actor Chia (Ho-Kai Law) and set him up for a fake haunting at one point.

the company

However, a wandering ghost (Yuet-Sang Chin, New Mr Vampire & Vampire Vs Vampire), whose bones are beneath the stage, without proper burial, decides he is sick of being bullied by a violent ghost (San Tai), and returns back to earth. The ghost isn’t bad but can’t help but be a trickster and so his presence is eventually discerned and Opera leader Master Sheng (Ching-Ying Lam) plays the role of an exorcist to discover what the ghost wants and help him move on. This goes wrong and incurs the wrath of the other ghost.

dressing up

You might ask what is vampiric in this. Other than Kuei and three others dressing as ghosts to trick another (and being joined by the wandering ghost, which eventually gives its presence away), and one of them wearing the burial garb we associate with kyonsi, I’d have been tempted to say nothing. However I watched this at the behest of my friend Leila for my opinion on the vampire aspect and, at the very end, I absolutely saw why.

rotted face

They are looking to capture and kill (or dispel) the ghost and do this by getting rope nets and soaking them in dog’s blood (famously used in later kyonsi films to deal with vampires) and also cover the floor in dog’s blood. The aim is to capture the ghost and then, whilst it is trapped, expose it to sunlight (clearly a very vampire movie trope). When this is discussed we see accompanying images of a creature that has a decaying face but is wearing that traditional funeral garb again.


When we finally see the ghost (which we have only had glimpses at poor angles previously, whilst in the otherworld, its earthly activities being more poltergeist like) it is not in such garb and yet for some reason it has fangs. There is no mention of vampirism (only of it being a ghost), though gui or gwai is commonly translated as ghost but is often mistranslated as vampire and indeed one of the Chinese words for vampire translates to suck blood ghost (the other being stiff corpse). However, it isn’t a vampire but the tropes are there. The imdb page is here.

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