Well I can think I am safe in saying that all Hong Kong film fans have been looking forward to this one. I mean what could go wrong? You have reborn Director Wilson Yip at the helm of doing a modern remake of the Tsui Hark classic. You get the benefit of modern production and special effects. You get a lead actress who you have faith can not only bring a suitable performance, but actually looks a bit like the wonderful Joey Wong. You add an appearance by the ever-reliable Louis Koo. I mean what could go wrong?
I am not going to go over the story too much here, as fundamentally it is pretty much the same as the original. You can add in a love triangle though. Oh, and take away all the fun. You see, the original was a glorious but fun and affecting mess. The 2011 version of “A Chinese Ghost Story” is however, like a cover version by a MOR artist of a punk classic. The words are there, the tune is the same, but all the emotion and feeling has been sucked away. It is in short…. boring.
Let me give some praise though. Yip does his best to ape Hark’s style, it has that lovely blue filter applied to it, and lots of wacky camera angles. The thing is it all feels rather forced and unnatural, and moreover, i felt the camera was always 6 feet too close to the action. Crystal Liu fortunately does her best as Nie Xiaoqian, showing both a human and demon side to her character well. Louis Koo is also far more fun than I expected, his Yan Chixia a little more complex than the previous films version, but I think he is very watchable.
Praise over now. In the original, Leslie Cheung was a brilliant Ning Caichen – he was human but also heroic. Louis Fan however is about as charming as a piece of cardboard. He shares no chemistry with anyone in the film, and basically spends the film looking rather dumb and awestruck. To be fair, I think that some of this is down to the story tweaks – adding a previous relationship between Liu and Koo adds little to the story, and the fact he is moved off-screen for the climactic battle seems a little odd. I do wonder – if they wanted Louis Koo in the film – why did they just not make him Ning? The introduction of a second spirit master also feels unnecessary, and just adds confusion in an already overlong final battle. The battle itself is just a horrible loud mess, full of ropey CGI and lacking wit. Sure it is spectacular, but can I follow it easily? Is it fun?
And that really is the problem. It is boring. The first two-thirds of the film are just dull. The final third is possibly too much of a battle scene, but again, it actually fails to excite. I am at no point emotionally invested in the film. Sure I liked the White Snake/Green Snake and Bride With White Hair nods, but I need a heck of lot more than that. I just did not believe in either of the central romances.
Looking around the net, I see some comments on some pretty weak dialogue too. This I cannot comment on as I may have seen this in a less than legal manner – I was watching the Cantonese dub of the Mandarin via an English subtitle that was translated from Vietnamese. This actually gave me the most pleasure of all, when one line was translated as “fo’ sho’” (for sure), which I am pretty certain no-one would really say in this era.
Now, I am not stupid enough to think that what was needed was a scene for scene remake of the original. I’ll accept that things move on, and that to even embark on this, change is required. But to suck out the very things that made it so special before – the love story and the humour – seems foolish. Thankfully we are not saddled with a happy ending. There is some worthwhile content here. But, it really comes up short. I will always go back to the original thank you, no as much as it saddens me to say – NOT Recommended.