REPOST -- CTP Episode of the Day - 04.18.06 - Hell Money

Today's Cherished Episode: Hell Money (3x19)
Original Air Date: March 29, 1996
Written By: Jeffrey Vlaming
Directed By: Tucker Gates

The deaths of several Chinese immigrants missing internal organs leads Mulder and Scully to a mysterious game with potentially fatal consequences.

"He won't be cashing any social security checks any time soon."
"No, but if I'm right this is one man who left his heart in San Francisco."

Some "Hell Money" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Episode Title: As described in the episode, "Hell Money" was used to pay off ghosts in the Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts.

-- Chris Carter came up with the notion of doing a show about a pyramid scheme for body parts, which became the basis of this episode, with the props department creating a game from scratch. "What was interesting about the episode is that so many people thought it was a real game," said story editor Frank Spotnitz, when the central device was in fact utterly fictitious.

-- This episode and "2SHY" were both written by Jeff Vlaming and, interestingly, both ended with pretty much the same scene: Mulder out of the room and Scully telling the bad guy what she really thought of him.

-- Director Tucker Gates also directed "El Mundo Gira." He went on to direct episodes of many popular series; and most recently, he has directed episodes of Lost, Brothers & Sisters, Weeds, and The Office.

-- "Hell Money" was one of the first X-Files episodes to be completely devoid of a paranormal angle.

-- Mulder's response to the first mention of the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, "Who you gonna call?", was one of the taglines from the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters.

-- This episode was the basis for one of the Young Adult series of books that were published during the show's popularity. It was published under the title "Hungry Ghosts" and was written by Ellen Steiber.

-- In terms of post-production, "Hell Money" required a "tremendous amount of looping," according to co-producer Paul Rabwin. Michael Yama who played Hsin, is Japanese and Lucy Liu, portraying his daughter, spoke Chinese with a Mandarin accent. Once it was realized the two were supposed to be speaking in a Cantonese dialect, all their dialogue in Chinese with English subtitles was redone after the episode with the help of a vocal coach. The re-recorded lines were then dubbed over the original soundtrack. "We did it 'til it sounded right," said Rabwin, who noted that several factors were involved in the decision, among them sensitivity to the Chinese community.

-- Perhaps the most memorable scene, when the frog popped out of the corpse's chest, proved relatively simple by the show's technical standards. The makeup effects crew, under Toby Lindala, used stock molds to rig a fake human torso, placing it over the actor as he lay on the table. For the close-up, the torso only was then placed on a table that had a hole in the midsection, allowing the show's animal wrangler to get underneath and gently push the frog through the opening.

-- Vancouver's Chinatown stood in for its more celebrated counterpart in San Francisco, as it did for Hong Kong in "Piper Maru." The crematorium scenes were shot within a soundstage.

-- Chinese magic is based not on the four western elements of fire, earth, air, and water, but on the five elements of earth, fire, wood, metal, and water. Each element corresponds to an important body part: fire, for example, corresponds to the heart. Thus, when the luckless player in The Game drew a "fire" tablet, everyone understood that he drew the "heart" symbol and was doomed.

-- There really is "hell money." During the Chinese New Year, and on yearly anniversaries of a relative's death, specially printed paper money is burned as a gift to the spirit world. It is also customary to burn paper images or replicas of cars, houses, food, or other offerings to the ancestors.

-- In "Hell Money," Mulder and Scully represented the audience itself. They knew just as much as the audience did, and so every scene was approached from that point of view. Like Mulder and Scully, the audience relied on Detective Chao to provide the answers created by the barriers of language and culture. When the characters spoke in Chinese, in most cases, there were no subtitles. Only in certain scenes without context was the audience given some idea of what was being said, and in a way, that detracted from the desired effect.

-- Giving Mulder and Scully a case that turned out to be mundane in every way wasn't necessarily a mistake; however, such a case should have had strong enough implications and enough mystery to keep the interest of the viewer. As was usually the case when Mulder and Scully had no effect on the outcome of the case and were merely observers, the episode was a letdown.

-- B. D. (Bradley Daryl) Wong was born and raised in San Francisco. He made his Broadway debut in 1988, creating the role of Song Liling in M. Butterfly, and won the Tony and every other major theater ward for his efforts. He chose to go by his initials while playing this breakthrough role. In the play, the title character's gender is ambiguous, and he decided that using his initials instead of his full name would make it difficult to guess whether he was a man or a woman, thus adding to the androgyny of the character he was playing.

-- After his success on Broadway, Wong moved to television and films. He co-starred as assistant wedding planner Howard Weinstein in Father of the Bride and its sequel, and played Henry Wu in Jurrasic Park. He appeared as Father Ray Mukada in the HBO series Oz, and played police psychologist Dr. George Huang, a specialist in aberrant sexual behavior, on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

-- In May 2003, Wong published "Following Foo: The Electronic Adventures of the Chestnut Man," a memoir detailing the journey that he and his life partner, Richie Jackson, made toward parenthood with the assistance of a surrogate mother.

-- Lucy Alexis Liu was a relative unknown when she guest-starred in "Hell Money" as Kim Hsin. She had a small role in Jerry McGuire, and a few guest-starring roles on television. A few years after her X-Files appearance, she found fame (and an Emmy Award nomination) as Ling Woo on the Fox series Ally McBeal. She has gone on to appear in Chicago, the Charlie's Angels film franchise and in Kill Bill: Volume I. She has several films set for release in 2007. Liu was the first Asian woman to host Saturday Night Live, on December 16, 2000.

-- At the time "Hell Money" was filmed, Lucy Liu was dating David Duchovny.

-- Once & Future Retreads: Doug Abrahams (Lt. Neary) was a Patrolman in the "Pilot," Agent #2 in "Genderbender," Paul Vitaris in "Die Hand Die Verletzt," and Harbaugh in "The Field Where I Died." Ellie Harvie (OPO Staffer) was a Ticket Agent in "E.B.E." Tim O'Halloran (Patrolman) was The Sergeant in "All Souls."

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Hell Money."