Monday, October 10, 2011

A Chinese Ghost Story and a Monstrous Presence: A Movie Review

Director: Wilson Yip.

Cast: Louis Koo, Yifei Liu and Shao-qun Yu.

Love can be a bittersweet enemy in the remake of the 1987 Tsui Hark classic, A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂).. At this movie’s core is a tale of romance, of how a simple tax collector/scholar, Ning Choi-Shan (Yu Shaoqun), falls in love with a female spirit, Siu Sin (Liu Yifei). She is unfortunately enslaved by an evil tree demon. With the help of a monk/master swordsman Yin Chek Ha, (Louis Koo), he frees her. In the original, there were complications since the lovers are mortal and immortal.

That gets changed in the update. In Chek Ha’s younger years, during his training to be a monk, he fell for Siu Sin as well. He had to make a choice, and instead of killing her, it is his duty, he magically took away her memories of him. This introduction changes the dynamics of the original film. The remake creates a love triangle; Siu Sin has to decide on whom she loves more, and who is her soul mate.

Also gone are the campy special effects and the comedy that made the original shine.

Director Wilson Yip (Ip Man) never intended to copy Tsui Hark’s seminal work. He provides some interesting changes, but none of them stands out as needed. They only add to the folklore. The only detail that both he and writer Charcoal Tan (The Sorcerer and the White Snake) offer is that feudal China is rife with spirit hunters. They are also monks who go around China to defeat the evil entities that live all over the land. They occupy trees, mountains, rivers and the like. Any mortal soul unfortunate enough to be buried within their reach become slaves. They are forced to suck the life essence out of unwary wayfarers to bring back to the master to consume.

This film is at least filling in the sense that there is a world beyond the central characters. Yip creates a world that, if it ever gets a massively multiplayer online role playing game treatment, certain audiences will no doubt want to play in. Anything can happen for those looking for a tryst with the other side. Interestingly, before this movie, there was a television series "Chinese Ghost Story, Eternal Love" which broadens the scope of the romance. Yip must have taken some cues from this show, since Siu-sin is now a fox spirit than a traditional ghost.

In doing so, Yip also handles the remainder of the film with a budget that’s unworthy of the CGI name. Aside from one cute looking white fox, the computer effects are nothing remarkable. Most of what is rendered only quickly enhances the martial arts sequences. The monster effects happen too fast to be recognized. In adding to the film, the graphics are mostly powder, smoke, and water effects. Not even the chemistry between Shaoqun and Yifi stands out as spectacular; while the actors go through the motions, there is no attraction for one another. Koo and Yifei’s onscreen presence is by far more interesting than the rest of the film. To see the little nods to the intro in the later parts only hints at whom Siu-sin really loves.

Maybe in the next life, everyone will be happy.

Overall: 7 out of 10.

More information about the television series can be found:

A Chinese Ghost Story's Homepage

The film on Blu-Ray:

A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂) at Amazon

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