After the utter awfulness of the last film I looked at, I thought it was only right and proper to get to something much more worthwhile.
“A Chinese Ghost Story” is one of those films you will find discussed on pretty much any website that has an interest in Hong Kong Cinema. It really sets up a template for plenty of movies that followed it (including its own two sequels). It is gloriously all over the place genre-wise, from the tense and scary opening scene, to the gently amusing almost silent set up over the opening credits, even having that pre-requisite of a decapitation.
Leslie Chueng plays Ning, a tax collector, who via various plot mechanics ends up spending time in a haunted temple. He meets and falls in love with a Ghost (Joey Wong), encounters a Ghost hunting Taoist (Ma Wu), and battles (occasionally unwittingly) Zombies, an andgrogenous Tree Spirit with a remarkable tongue, and eventually enters into Hell to fight the 1,000 year old evil Lord Black.
As I said earlier, the film is deliciously all over the place, incorporating wild action, slapstick, wordplay, horror, stop motion (with surely some inspiration from “Evil Dead”), slo-mo, crazy angles, blue filters (would Producer Tsui Hark ever allow such a film to be made without the blue filter?) and eroticism. We even get a little musical number (which is oddly un-subtitled on my DVD). It should be a mess, but it holds together fantasically.
The key I think is in the fact although it really is a huge patchwork quilt, it never lingers on one genre too long. It could have spent ages on the scene where Ning evades and eventually accidently defeats the stop motion Zombies, but instead we get a little build up, a couple of comic/tense moments and then it is done with, ready for the story to progress.
Joey Wong is wonderful, managing to be both scary and tragic. Her appearances on the screen are glowing and effervescent. I understand that this role actually had her typecast for a while, which is an awful pity as I cannot think of a time I have seen her when she has disappointed.
Leslie Cheung plays Ning as all too human – sometimes cowardly, sometimes heroic, but always with a little glint of fun in his eye. This is probably best shown when he is hiding from the Tree Spirit in a bathtub full of water, and he risks getting up to just have a little peek at Joey Wong’s breasts, just one more time. In fact watching this film reminds me there has not been nearly enough coverage of Leslie Cheung on this blog, which is something I plan to address.
Ma Wu is also a lot of fun, once you get past his rather fake looking beard. He plays of Cheung delightfully, and his character is suprisingly complex – initially rude and sarcastic, we eventually learn that he is quite a tragic character, torn between the world of humans and ghosts, and despite his initial gruffness, he has a desire for love and happiness for others.
Of course the finale is sad – it is quite clear that there is not going to be a happy ever after ending here (and it really does rush to its conclusion – my common criticism of a lot of movies that Hark is involved in is that he rarely spends an extra few minutes contemplation on what has gone before) …..but at least we have a rainbow of hope.
It isn’t The Bride with the White Hair – this isn’t life affecting, this isn’t art. but this is damn enjoyable. If you want to try a fantasy-comic-horror-action movie from Hong Kong, this is the one to start with. Highly Recommended