Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Movie Review: Ghost for Sales

As I was preparing to post my review of Chinese movie Ghost for Sales today, I learned that the star of this movie, Ricky Hui, died this morning.  This is sad, of course.  Ricky Hui starred in dozens of golden era Hong Kong movies, and his distinctive looks, his understated comedic acting style, and his deft martial artistry were a reliable staple of so many weird and goofy movies.  That he died on the day I posted my first review of him seems like the kind of coincidence that would only happen in the world of a Hong Kong movie.   RIP, Ricky Hui.  Such as it is, this movie review is for you.

The Gweilo's Movie Ratings for Ghost for Sales
The Chinese movie review continues below this info box!
Category Rating
WTF Meter 3.2 out of 5
MST3K-Ability 3.6 out of 5
Chinese Movie Ghost for Sales
Director Guy Lai
Actors Ricky Hui, Sheila Chan, Wilson Lam, Shing Fui-On, Maggie Sui,
Year 1991
Format Viewed VCD Wide Sight WCVCD1160 What is a VCD?

You might think that a movie titled Ghost for Sales would have a ghost that was for sale.  Or perhaps a salesman of ghosts, trying to ply his trade.  Or perhaps a ghostly sales clerk, or a ghostly job seeker, looking for some employment in sales.  But this is a Hong Kong produced Chinese movie, not a Hollywood film.  So of course this movie is none of those things.  Instead, Ghost for Sales is a delightfully mixed up, Three-Stooges-style knock off of Ghost Busters.

Ricky Hui, along with his friend and his uncle, make up the bumbling ghost-busting trio of this film.  Ricky uses the typical Taoist priest strategies of fighting ghosts, using mirrors and magical post-it notes and hexagrams and wooden swords, etc.  His inventor friend prefers a more scientific method of busting ghosts.  Apparently his scientific research involved watching Ghost Busters a few times:

Who you gonna call?

Just try to tell me this isn't a Ghost Busters rip-off.

But, just like Spooky Family immediately abandoned its initial purpose of ripping off the Addams Family, Ghost for Sales quickly veers off into a goofy, all-over-the-map Hong Kong movie. The result is part low-budget Ghost Busters parody, part wirework flying kung fu historical piece, part "sleazy corporate world versus honest fellow" feel-good movie, part Three Stooges buddy movie, part relationship movie, ... and the list goes on.

The plot of Ghost for Sales is just plain weird.  There's an amusement park, which is run by an evil, corporate, plutocratic amusement park baron:
Evil Corporate Amusement Park Baron
He played too much of this as a kid.
His theme park is doing fine ("fine" here means "not haunted").  But for some reason he decides he needs to install two dangerously haunted thousand-year-old corpses on the grounds of the park.  You can probably guess where this is heading.

Meanwhile Ricky Hui and the rest of the Ghost for Sales crew have been goofing around exterminating ghosts and pulling nonsensical pranks in a haunted brothel.  Somehow they wander onto the amusement park grounds with special "ghost wave finding" hand held GPS machines.  These machines are used to measure exactly the place you should never ever put haunted corpses.  And, yes, it turns out that the location the Roller Coaster Tycoon has in mind for his corpses is coincidentally the very worst place to put corpses in all of Hong Kong.
Yeah, I'd look worried too
There are a ton of continuity problems in this movie that really only make it more fun to watch from the Gweilo's perspective.  There's an old window washer who gets fired by the Roller Coaster Tycoon, then turns into a ghost, and then dies.  (Yes, in that order.)  There's scenes of trucks and police cars driving around that are entirely unconnected to the plot at all.

And then there are the translation errors.  I have to assume they are translation errors.  Like the title of the movie itself:  "Ghost for Sales" can hardly be accurate, can it?  Numerous times characters will say something that makes no sense and leads to nothing, so I can only assume it's a translation error.  Like when this magical angel tells the Ghost for Sales crew to "go & find a junkie":
You mean like William Burroughs?
They don't. 

Then there are times when the subtitle guy seems to be actively rebelling, and mistranslating things on purpose!  Like the conversation that is perfectly normal for a while, but then suddenly everything that is said is simply translated as "Fart":
We're farting here.
Fart?  Fart.
Really?  Really?  This juvenile, unsung act of rebellion on the part of this movie's lowly, underpaid subtitle translator makes Ghost for Sales golden by any standards!  If I ever meet the disgruntled employee who translated the conversation this way, I will happily buy that man a beer.  This guy is my new hero.

And then there are the fight scenes, which are well executed but full of WTF moments.

I like how this monk tries "Abracadabra!" as a magic spell to banish this ghost.  
And I like how it doesn't work.

And I like how they play around mixing Taoist ghost busting techniques from Hong Kong movies with the weird mechanical inventions of Ghost Busters.

Bottom Line of this Chinese Movie Review:  Ghost for Sales is a real delight from the Gweilo's perspective.  Recommended!


  1. hey Eric.. this is a very good post of yours.. nice blog you have here, very interesting.. will add you up to keep updated with HK movies.. at least now I have somewhere to refer to cos I am sort of "banana"... dont know how to read mandarin.. thanks for coming by..

    Sad to think Ricky Hui has passed on...suddenly..

  2. Ha, I think they did say fart. As for "go find a Junkie," it should be go find a forest. I never watched this before. This is going on my list. I have a recommendation for you:

    This is fairly new... 10 years ago... Oh well not that new. It's funny and cheesy. It was just refreshing to see that in '98 when almost all of Asian horror went super serious.
    RIP Ricky Hui

  3. @ reanaclaire:

    Thanks for coming by, and for your kind words about the site.

    Yes, it's sad and sudden. Alan Tang, Kim Tai Chung and now Ricky Hui have all died this year.

  4. @ GroggyBot:

    Thanks for the visit, and the translations! If they are saying "fart", that just makes the movie even weirder, in a good way of course. And "go find a forest" would make a little more sense than "go find a junkie"--I think she wants them to find the exact, precise spot that the ghosts died. So go find a forest does make sense. Except it's a hilarious way to give precise directions.

    Thanks also for the recommendation! I'll have to give Bio Zombie a try. From what I've seen, zombie movies are few and far between from Hong Kong.

  5. There is a Chinese comedy zombie movie I had seen .. But .. I don't remember the name .. The story is about two masters sending their students and a kid for a zombie hunt .. But they fart on their faces ;) hahaha at the end the aake their masters to close their eyes and to breathe in and fart and run away .. Please tell me the name of this movie !

  6. There is a Chinese comedy zombie movie I had seen .. But .. I don't remember the name .. The story is about two masters sending their students and a kid for a zombie hunt .. But they fart on their faces ;) hahaha at the end the aake their masters to close their eyes and to breathe in and fart and run away .. Please tell me the name of this movie !