Horror Icon Mini-Marathon: RONNY YU
It is often the case that the directors who have become synonymous with well-known films in the horror genre often had no interest or expectation to work in horror to begin with. William Friedkin stumbled backwards into his fame in horror with “The Ecxorcist,” and John Carpenter was always a fan of studio westerns before the world coined him the new Hitchcock with the release of his third film “Halloween.” So it shouldn’t be surprising that two of the more entertaining entries in the “Child’s Play” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street” franchises would be directed by a filmmaker who was previously known best as a director of martial arts romances.
Ronny Yu began his film career in Hong Kong, directing a number of crime and police thrillers like “The Servant” in 1979 and “The Savior” in 1980. His career continued, alternating as producer, director, and actor in a series of action films and comedies, until 1993, when Yu directed his most well-known Hong Kong film, “The Bride with White Hair.” The film was winner of multiple awards, and found a home in the indie and arthouse circuit in the U.S. and parts of Europe.
After making a sequel to “The Bride with White Hair” and bringing a Chinese version of “The Phantom of the Opera” to the screen in 1995 called “The Phantom Lover,” Yu found Hollywood calling. His first American film was the interesting but ultimately unsuccessful martial arts fantasy “Warriors of Virtue.” He tried his hand in Hollywood action with the Samuel L. Jackson film “Formula 51”, and after directing a couple iconic horror entries, he returned to his native Hong Kong to make the Jet Li epic “Fearless.”
Though his directorial career in America (which included a directorial effort on the short-lived horror anthology series “Fear Itself”) was not very long, he did make two memorable and energetic entries in well-known horror franchises, and dabbled in Asian horror himself early on in his career.
Though the film came out in 1984, the plot and themes of this film (aside from the portions of comedy that break up the horror elements) could be right out of a J-horror film from the early 2000’s. Yu, working with a very young Chow Yun-Fat, tells a humorous and somewhat spooky story of a police officer and a college student teaming up with a real estate broker to help a ghost finish business and head back to the afterlife. Fun, energetic, and an amazing time capsule of the time and place, “The Occupant” is an obscure but fun artifact from Yu’s early career.
Bride of Chucky
Coming after a seven-year gap in the franchise (one of the longest periods for a direct sequel other than the “Texas Chainsaw” movies), writer Don Mancini decided to embrace the comedy that was always peeking around the corners of the previous installments and bring it center stage. The result was “Bride of Chucky,” a funny and exciting horror film that breaks a lot of conventions and never stops to take a breath. The addition of Jennifer Tilly as Chucky’s cultist girlfriend is inspired, and Yu brings a sense of refreshing adventure to a worn premise.
Freddy vs. Jason
It’s the one everybody was waiting for. After years of promises, rumors, and issues with character rights (which led to both “Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare” and “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday”), New Line finally got their act together and brought the two powerhouse killers from the 1980’s together to wreak havoc on the horror film world. With a script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the story brings Jason and Freddy together through a clever plot device about the children of Elm Street essentially no longer being frightened of Freddy. His plan, to use Jason in order to put the fear of Freddy back into them, goes awry when Jason turns out to be a loose cannon. A group of kids trying to solve the murders and save their town serve as minor distractions around the amazing action set-pieces in the film, from the rave in the cornfield that becomes a bloodbath, to the dream battle, to the final showdown on the docks of Crystal Lake. Yu’s skill in martial arts action are put to great use, and this film is easily the most polished, clever, and watchable entry in the entire series.