31 Days of Horror: A Chinese Ghost Story

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31daysofhorror a chinese ghost story

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Blu-ray. Long overdue rewatch. Shame prep for A Chinese Ghost Story 2.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1980’s
Country of Origin – Hong Kong


The Advance Word: I remember being transfixed by Joey Wong and the amazing zombie-skeleton things in the basement of the haunted temple that clearly came from the same brand of undead as the ones from Army of Darkness, but gooier.

Wa Mu combats evil forces in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Later he raps.

Wa Mu combats evil forces in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Later he raps while training.

A Chinese Ghost Story remains one of those fine examples of Hong Kong cinema that refuses to be defined by any specific genre. Blending elements of horror, romance, slapstick, musical and wuxia, the film probably has more in common with the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera any specific genre. When you think director Ching Siu-Tung (best known perhaps as John Woo’s action choreographer/stunt director) has crammed everything imaginable into this tale of supernatural romance, his demon warrior played by Wa Mu, drops a rhyme while he trains for his final battle against the Tree Devil.

Beneath the pratfalls and hilariously ineffective gooey, undead basement zombies, lies an earnest supernatural romance. Leslie Cheung’s roving collection agent stumbles across a beautiful woman near an abandoned temple. She’s radiant. Flowing black hair. Sexy little anklet. Unfortunately she’s also quite dead… and a kept spirit who lures libidinous men to their demise. It seems the Tree Devil feeds on their souls. Further bad luck, she’s also been given to another malevolent spirit as his future bride. The deck’s stacked against our bumbling, good-intentioned hero.

The chaotic finale finds Leslie Cheung and Wa Mu battling demons and other various undead creatures to rescue the lovely (but still very dead) girl from her captors. More wuxia, magic, swordfighting and breaches of the ethereal plain in order to make her not quite so dead. Critics might fault A Chinese Ghost Story for working on so many different levels but only excelling at one — when it slows down the pace to explore the romance between Cheung and Wong.

I enjoyed rediscovering the absurdities all over again. Having not seen this film since college, the lingering memories were little more than individual images. When Wu Ma begins his rap, you’re either on board with the whole endeavor or checking out for good. The best comparison I can offer for this film is Army of Darkness with a heaping tablespoon of gooey romance.

 

Technical Notes:

Hong Kong cinema has never been known for taking especially good care of its film stock, but the Kam & Ronson Blu-ray looks rather sharp. The film always had a soft feel to it so it’ll likely never look better than this. A good amount of grain remains and there’s some nice contrast where the DVD looked uniformly dull. All of this is relative. If you’re familiar with Hong Kong cinema of the 1980’s you should already have reasonable expectations. The English subtitles are generally intelligible — only a few mental leaps of translation required. This is likely the best this film will ever look or sound.

a chinese ghost story

Final Thoughts:

Ever since I first viewed A Chinese Ghost Story as part of my college class in Hong Kong Cinema, I’ve considered a favorite. It even made an appearance in my Top 100 Films Ranking for a short time. At the time A Chinese Ghost Story blew me away due to the film’s total disregard for genre convention. Was it horror? Melodrama? Comedy? Clearly nobody makes movies like this over here. Now that I’ve taken off my Hong Kong cinema training wheels, I realize this method of genre-bending isn’t as unusual as I first thought. I still revere A Chinese Ghost Story for those moments where Ching Siu-Tung spits on narrative convention for the sake of pure entertainment.

30Hz Rating: Bloody Good

30hzrating4

A chinese ghost story blu-rayBlu-ray Verdict: I was happy to replace that old DVD and long may A Chinese Ghost Story anchor my shelf of Hong Kong cinema.

Availability: The All-Region HK Blu-ray is now Out of Print. A Japanese box set of the three films is available at YesAsia.com.

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