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A Chinese Ghost Story
|     review    |     notes     |     awards     |     availability     |     also see      |


Joey Wong enchants Leslie Cheung in A Chinese Ghost Story.

Chinese: 倩女幽魂  
Year: 1987  
Director: Ching Siu-Tung  
Producer: Tsui Hark  
Action: Ching Siu-Tung, Philip Kwok Chun-Fung, Tsui Chung-San, Wu Chi-Lung
Cast: Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing, Joey Wong Cho-Yin, Wu Ma, Lau Siu-Ming, Lin Wei, David Wu Dai-Wai
The Skinny: The original supernatural action-comedy-romance-horror-swordplay flick!
 
Review
by Kozo:

What can you say about A Chinese Ghost Story that hasn't been said? A certified Hong Kong Cinema classic, the film would still probably be playing Midnight Movie fests nationwide if it weren't for the obligatory Miramax/Disney embargo. A Chinese Ghost Story features many of Hong Kong Cinema's celebrated hallmarks, including over-the-top action, a wild mix of genres, and overwrought emotions that prove surprisingly compelling. Nowadays, the movie may seem slapdash and overeager-to-please, but there's no denying its impact on Hong Kong Cinema's global reputation.

Leslie Cheung stars as Ning, a meek tax collector who finds himself involved in a wacky supernatural romance. He's slated to become a victim to enchanting ghost Nie (Joey Wong), who's bound to an evil tree demon (Lau Siu-Ming) who feed on men's souls. Ning's soul is slated for consumption, but due to a variety of circumstances, he's prevented from becoming soul food. Even more, the comely Nie grows to care for Ning, and vice versa. Then roving ghostbuster Wu Ma shows up to take down spirits with his nifty Taoist methods. There's also impomptu singing, sumptuous production design, and a tree demon with an extraordinarily long tongue. What a great film!

Reviewing A Chinese Ghost Story as an actual film is probably useless by now, as its international repuation has been all but etched in stone. It's not hard to see what made the film such a festival hit. Not only does it possess Hong Kong's unique mixture of comedy-action-drama-romance, but it's also genuinely compelling in its hyperemotional excess and—at the time—willingness to defy the Western filmmaking rules of the super happy ending. The potpourri of film techniques (i.e., slow motion, dutch angles) provides extra zip to the proceedings, and the production design is amazing in its sheer manufactured beauty. And Ching Siu-Tung's action is beautifully choreographed and energetically staged.

However, the most compelling thing about A Chinese Ghost Story is probably its sheer cinematic energy. People fly, jump, and engage in situation comedy with little pause for breath, and whatever pauses that do occur are usually there to linger on Joey Wong's lovely face. That everything seems incredibly fake and staged is irrelevant. A Chinese Ghost Story is primo eighties Hong Kong Cinema, which means a complete disregard for any attempt at realism. Everything here is so hyperrealistic and over-the-top that it makes Hollywood musicals look like the very model of restraint.

Sadly, they don't make movies like this anymore. Even back then, Hong Kong audiences viewed this sort of slapdash, anything-goes filmmaking as borderline crap. And in a way, they're sort of correct. A Chinese Ghost Story—and much of its eighties ilk—are really not much more than glorified B-movie stuff. And most people view B-movies as the very definition of crap. Well, if that's the case then A Chinese Ghost Story is the greatest crap ever made. (Kozo 1990/2002)

 
Notes:

Sigh. Disney now owns this one. They probably own Tsui Hark's sunglasses and all the loose fragments of Jackie Chan's skull, too.
Awards:

7th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Winner - Best Art Direction (Yee Chung-Man)
Winner - Best Original Score (Tai Lok-Man, James Wong Jim)
Winner - Best Original Song ("Lai Ming But Yiu Loi" performed by Sally Yeh)
Nomination - Best Picture
Nomination - Best Director (Ching Siu-Tung)
Nomination - Best Actress (Joey Wong Cho-Yin)
Nomination - Best Supporting Actor (Wu Ma)
Nomination - Best Cinematography (Poon Hang-Sang, Lee Ka-Ko, Lau Moon-Tong,
Wong Wing-Hang)
Nomination - Best Editing (Cinema City Editing Group)
Nomination - Best Action Design (Ching Siu-Tung, Kwok Chui, Lau Chi-Ho,
Tsui Chung-San, Wu Chi-Lung)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales Video Distribution
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 6.1 / DTS ES 6.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
Also see: A Chinese Ghost Story 2 (1990)
A Chinese Ghost Story 3 (1991)
A Chinese Ghost Story: The Tsui Hark Animation (1997)

image courtesy of Mega Star Video Distribution, Ltd.

   
   
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