Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂)

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) (倩女幽魂) is another HK box office hit movie from producer Tsui Hark (徐文光) and director Tony Ching Siu Tong (程小東) which spawned numerous similarly theme movies around the late 80s. It is loosely based on one of several hundreds short stories contain in 18th century's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異) by Pu Songling (蒲松齡), written during the Qing Dynasty. Behind the veil of horror, action and comedy, it is actually a romance story between a human and a ghost, a much discussed taboo during the ancient time. There is nothing scary about the movie (although Esther has a fright watching this movie when she was younger), instead the main highlight would be the entertaining aspect of the entire plot.
This movie launches Taiwanese beauty Joey Wang's popularity and cemented the late Leslie Cheung's stardom and as THE super heartthrob in millions of Asian teenagers during that period.
Also starred in this movie is Lau Siu Ming, the sandpaper voice veteran actor more popularly known in his TVB hit series than in movies, the legendary Wu Ma, as well as cameo appearance by slapstick director Wong Jing.
The movie is about a poor scholar Ning Choi San (Leslie) who works as a debt collector to supplement his income. This requires him to travel afar and one day, he came to this town for a scheduled debt collection when he came across a swordsman chasing after some bandits, resulting in a fearful Ning running away from a hut during heavy rain. The rain ruined the records contain in his book, thus the debtor refuses to pay up to Ning. Without the collection of which he is entitled for a percentage to cover his travelling and accommodation expenses, Ning has no choice but to seek a shelter to spend a night. He is ill-advised by a funeral director to go stay at Nan Yuk Tze, an abandoned temple highly reputed to be haunted. He has no choice but to go. Also staying at the temple is a recluse former magistrate now Taoist priest Yin Tze Ha (Wu Ma) who is in the midst of a sword fight with the earlier swordsman who wants to challenge Yin to claim the number one position in swords play. Yin manages to defeat him and advise Ning not to stay in the temple. Ning refuses and stays on, resulting in some stop motion zombies seeking to eat him. These zombies are human corpses killed and stored away by Lou Lou (Lau Siu Ming with a dual voice over), a thousand years old androgynous tree demon which sucks both flesh and soul from its victim using its giant tongue. Lou Lou is assisted by Nie Siu Xin (Joey Wang), a spirit of a concubine killed by one of the wives of a lord and then hastily buried near the roots of the tree demon. She would seduce unsuspecting (and horny) travellers, and whilst "pre-occupied", Lou Lou's tongue would crept up into their throats and suck out everything, leaving an empty husk. The swordsman defeated by Yin would eventually became a victim right after the duel. Ning meanwhile hears a someone plays a qin in the middle of the night and wanders off to find out. He stumbles upon Siu Xin. Ning thought she is human and daughter of some prominent families. He did not fall for her immediately and Siu Xin saves him several times from Lou Lou when she realises he is different and naive. After being made clear by Yin that Siu Xin is a spirit, Ning initially wanted to run away from her but realises he is deeply in love with her by then, and decides to free her from from Lou Lou, who has betroth Siu Xin to the Lord of Black Mountain, another ancient, monstrous demon who commands an army of fallen soldiers. With the assistance of Yin, they manages to free Siu Xin and defeated Lou Lou (who was cast away for a century by Yin's spell but would return for a final showdown in the movie second sequel) but alas, before the dawn breaks, of which Yin and Ning would have to rebury Siu Xin's urn in order for her to reincarnate, the Lord of Black Mountain came and snatch her away into the Underworld to fulfill the contract promised by Lou Lou. Ning and Yin have no choice but to travel deep into the Underworld to save Siu Xin from the vile demon, which turns out to keep hundreds of female spirits within its body for eternity. Both Ning and Yin nearly lost their lives in the subsequent battle but are save by Siu Xin and the Golden Sutra. Coming back into the real world, without much time left, Ning, without even the chance to glance Siu Xin for the final time, bid farewell to her as she disappears.
This movie also gave the late Leslie Cheung one of his most memorable hit songs as well as another one from the late hit song writer, James Wong Jim. The sad ballad from Sally Yeh at the end of the movie also won her a best original score.

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