Sien nui yau wan (A Chinese Ghost Story)
Hong Kong 1987
Written by Gai Chi Yuen
Directed by Siu-Tung Ching
After an absolutely brilliant, gloriously shot and beautifully looking prologue that for me also was the best part of the movie, an uber-kitschy title song kicks in, and suddenly I started to wonder if “A Chinese Ghost Story” offered the template for the so-called “Bollywood”-cinema (even though it’s from Hong Kong) – an impression that was further reinforced by the no less-kitschy love-story as well as the fact that the movie featured a couple more songs after the credits sequence (no dancing, though). But while I’m not a huge fan of typical Bollywood-movies and can only enjoy them in a “getting drunk with friends and making fun of them”-kind of way, I thoroughly enjoyed “A Chinese Ghost Story”. The one thing that irked me a little bit, however, was it’s uneven tone. The movie is all over the place, offering some mild scares, lots of humorous scenes, a romantic love story, over the top Kung Fu-fighting, the occasional song, and some really weird monsters… and as much as I might have enjoyed most of those individual elements, I’m not 100% sure if they really fit together convincingly, seamlessly and successfully. Also, there were a couple of scenes – like the judge – that didn’t really work for me.
However, WHEN it works, it REALLY works. Since I’m an incurable romantic, I especially liked the love story. Yes, it was exaggerated and kitschy and over-the top… and I loved every second of it. For whatever reason, I seem to have a marked preference for tragic love stories; make of that what you will. I also loved the way they handled the ghost/flight-scenes. The whole movie was exceptionally well shot, with lots of impressive visuals and beautiful scenes that managed to impress me despite the fact that the film print I saw was in really bad shape. It’s also completely bonkers. Mummies in the attic? A demon whose voice switches constantly between male and female? A sorcerer with weird magical abilities? A treemonster with a miles-long tongue? And, finally, a quick side trip to hell, including a fight with the devil? Seriously, this is some crazy, weird shit – and I loved it. It’s really something else, and highly imaginative. Add to that lots and lots of funny scenes, great performances from all involved, as well as a beautiful soundtrack, and you have a highly enjoyable, albeit not flawless, movie.
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