Rule #1

Cops vs. ghosts. Works better as an offbeat police procedural than as a scary movie.

Released in 2008, certified UK-Not Yet Rated. Reviewed on 16 Jun 2009 by Scott Morris
Rule #1 image

The press blurb for this film invoked a clear mental picture of a John Woo-era Chow Yun Fat diving backwards over a table shooting ghosts in the face. This, clearly, would be the single most awesome movie that could ever possibly have been created. While, in the end this film doesn't quite live up to those expectations, it is almost the exactly the plot of Asian flick Rule #1.

After being shot five times in the chance apprehension/fatal shooting of a serial killer that had eluded capture for three years, beat cop Lee Kwok-keung (Shawn Yue) is reassigned after rousing himself from his coma to the Miscellaneous Affairs Department. This wonderfully generically named department turns out to be the one assigned to answer calls to the fuzz starting "There's something strange in my house...". The titular Rule No. 1 of the department is that there are no ghosts. This, it turns out, is not so much a statement of fact as it is a convenient fiction for the public to believe in, while the short staffed M.A.D. clean up the mess that these evil spirits leave. Largely by shooting ghosts in the face.

I say ghosts, possessed people may be a more accurate term, although I'm not sure supernatural bullshit is something that you can assign accuracy to. The department essentially consists of Lee and his superior officer, the hard drinkin', hard boiled cop Inspector Wong (Ekin Cheng). Genre fans will be pleased to hear that he's just resigned and has one week left in this job which does rather take its toll on a guy. However, we all know how many movie cops get to see their wonderful retirement shindigs.

Rule #1 image

So, yes, there are ghosts among us, and while many will just hang around in their own places of personal misery, some have a far more vengeful streak. After entering a body, they can then pass through to others through a simple touch, leaving a hollow, braindead shell in their wake. Plainly, this sort of thing cannot go unchecked and medical science has determined that the most effective way to stop this spreading is to find a still-possessed person and apply a salve of hot lead, applied via a suitably handgun shaped injection mechanism.

Shooting unfortunate, largely innocent people in the head just because they've been touched by a creepie-crawly isn't the most relaxing of jobs, and soon starts taking a toll on Lee's relationship with his wife. Things get worse for him, obviously, and those whose have wisdom may already have linked those 'fatal shooting' and 'vengeful spirit' terms, and wouldn't be far wrong in doing so.

Two charismatic and likeable performances from the leads often make this a vastly enjoyable film to watch. It's quite frequently amusing and taken as a whole the film is certainly enjoyable, and far more so than most other films having the misfortune to wind up filed under the 'horror' category.

Indeed, it'd be a pretty excellent film if only there weren't all of these damn ghosts lousing the place up. It is simply not scary, again falling back into the usual sudden orchestral stab as a source of shocks rather than building any real attempt at an atmosphere of dread. As such there's little emotional involvement with Lee's predicament, and frankly it would have been a far more enjoyable film without this whole possession aspect in the first place.

At least it throws just about enough claret around to compensate as it devolves into a final act rampage, which might not be particularly scary but is occasionally inventive enough to draw some admiration. A shame, then that it ruins this by providing a terrible, rotten ending that's not so much of a twist as it is director Kelvin Tong stopping things, rewinding five minutes and having another crack at it. This is unforgivably lazy, artless and leaves a terrible taste in the mouth as we wander blinking into the outside world. For that reason I can only muster a mild recommendation to those outside of the 'genre diehard' category, although if you were to chop out that ludicrous ending it would have been an easy sell to audiences warmed up by the super Drag Me To Hell. Ah well.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Kelvin Tong
Cast list:
Shawn Yue (Lee Kwok-keung)
Ekin Cheng (Inspector Wong)