Ghostly Bus (1995)
I presume that some bus company must have donated one of their old buses to the production company, as I am quite sure their budget wouldn't have stretched to buying one. You can imagine the meeting when the studio manager announced the news...
"This is our big chance boys, now what movie are we going to make with this bus?"
"How about 'God Of Bus Drivers'?"
"No no, 'Bus Of Legend'!"
"Shaolin Bus Driver"
"Once Upon A Time On A Bus"
"The Love Bus"
and an awed silence would have descended. "Ghostly Bus". Was there ever a better movie title?
This particular Ghostly Bus was directed by old Kung Fu star Wilson Tong, with Fung Hak-On in a supporting role and sharing Action Direction duties. For most of the movie I was wondering what on earth they needed 2 action directors for, but it all becomes clear at the end.
One of the actors... I'm guessing Vincent Wan... plays a bus driver with an unusual ability. Seems he was born with Lam Ching-Ying's eyebrows, which give him the power to see the dead. His eyebrows, and his comfort with the spirit world, get him the job of driving 'the last bus' of the night - number 97 if you want to read handover anxiety into the plot. The passengers on this route were all killed when the bus ran off the road a couple of years earlier, and for one reason or another they can't/won't reincarnate. The bus company struck up a deal that they could have the last bus of the night if they stopped haunting the other buses and scaring the passengers. They also put on an occasional opera performance on the bus to entertain the ghosts. A good deal for everyone I guess :)
Possibly having just seen Stanley Kwan's ROUGE, one of the bus' ghost passengers (the very attractive Valerie Chow) asks driver chap if he can help her... she wants him to find somebody, her ex, and ask him what he had wanted to tell her before she died. Driver agrees, and sets off to track down Michael (Simon Yam). Michael is part of a gang of super-skilled pick-pockets (along with Fung Hak On and some other guy), and when we meet him he is just foolishly picking the pockets of a triad head. Oh dear, that sounds like trouble. Or dramatic impetus for the plot, if you like. However, before this catches up with him, he gets to tell the bus driver the story of his relationship with Valerie and what he wanted to say before she died.
Most of the movie is actually dedicated to this flashback to their lives, and it is actually a great love story. Simon Yam's character is really good, and his performance is wonderful. Valerie Chow is good too, and there's a decent supporting cast. I found myself caring for the lovers quite a lot, and found their relationship to be quite deep and realistic, and touching. You wouldn't expect a kung fu actor to direct a great love story, but that's why he's a kung fu master and we're not, no doubt. You know from the start that Valerie's dead, so the love story can hardly have a happy ending. Unless of course, our bus driver can arrange for them to meet one more time. But before he can do that, there's that old 'pissed off the Triads' problem to deal with.
One reviewer on HKMDB points out that the movie can't decide if it's a love story, a triad drama or a horror movie. Well, why should it have to make such a decision? There's enough mileage in the "Ghostly Bus" concept to explore all of these things. I think that it is a love story first and foremost though, but the extra dynamics introduced by the triads & the ghosts (and the action scenes that come with them) don't hurt the love story at all, and do give the movie bonus value.
We're not looking at a big budget production here, obviously, but we are looking at an imaginative story with well developed characters and strong performances. It's funny, it's moving, it's exciting, it's err, not very scary... a movie in the best Hong Kong traditions in other words. Yet somehow I suspect it's never going to get the worldwide prestige it deserves. It seems hard to imagine that Wilson Tong could have produced a movie superior to his more recent Vampire Combat, but GHOSTLY BUS shows that it is indeed possible. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it's probably the greatest movie ever made, in fact ;-) (ok, maybe just a bit!)