Monday, 4 May 2015
Looking Back At A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
The recurring theme of 'Love From Beyond The Grave' invariably provokes a dewy-eyed response from cinema-goers everywhere, and A Chinese Ghost Story also features tear-stained moments of romance from a love that can never blossom. Ching Sui-Tung's remake of The Enchanted Shadow (1960) certainly has a few of those lump-in-your-throat scenes, but it also moves like an express train at times, combining action, humour and amazing pre-CGI effects.
The much-missed Leslie Cheung takes the central role of Ning Tsai-Shun - a debt collector down on his luck - who seeks shelter from the rain and ends up at the Lan Yeuk temple. It's here he encounters the beautiful Siu Sihn (Joey Wong); a girl with "cold hands and a pasty complexion".
"You seem really kind. It's a shame you came to the wrong place", declares Sihn. Before long, this heartfelt admonition casts a shadow over Shun and his newfound ally, Master Yan (Wu Ma); a Taosist swordsman who will soon risk life and limb in a duel between two worlds. The deal here is that Sihn is a ghost who is forced to lure young men into the temple where a tree demon is waiting to devour their souls. An arranged marriage to the evil Lord Of The Black Mountain places a seemingly irremovable object between Sihn and her earthly lover, leading to a battle royale in the underworld.
Widely acknowledged as a classic slice of Eastern delight, A Chinese Ghost Story casts its net further afield, with zombie riffs (albeit of the more docile kind) and nods to the tree horrors of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead.
This really is a visual treat, and the Region 2 DVD from Hong Kong Legends does it full justice. HKL's presentation looks remarkably crisp and colourful with blue ground mists, the warm glow of candlelight and those different shades of green in the New Territories exterior scenes all looking better than ever. Blacks are also spot on, and there's plenty of detail in night-time scenes - check out the 'company of wolves' scene in the forest.
HKL have also thoughtfully provided two interviews. The first is an informative 23 minute chat with Tsui Hark who expresses his admiration for Cheung (who initially refused the role of Shun); explains why Joey Wong wasn't first choice for playing Siu Sihn, and offers his reasons for frequently casting singers in many of his films. The second interview - a 29 minute Q&A with Wu Ma - is just as enlightening, revealing this actor/director has worked in the industry for 41 years. Wu Ma tells us why he feels Hark is an incredibly demanding person to work for; gives his reasons for believing that aspiring actors should begin their careers in TV rather than movies, citing Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung and Andy Lau as prime examples of the benefits of this route, and like Hark, chats about Leslie Cheung, hoping that his spirit is at rest.
The remainder of this disc contains trailers for some mouth-watering releases from Hong Kong Legends and Premier Asia - including clips from The Warrior, Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain and Naked Weapon - and all of them look in excellent shape. You'll also find 2 trailers for A Chinese Ghost Story: the UK version has a female voice- over which works really well, and makes a refreshing change from the norm.
There is one more feature to tell you about, and my advice is to make this your last port of call. 'A Star Shines In The East' is a short text and stills tribute to Leslie Cheung. Here, the words of Bey Logan convey the sadness surrounding Cheung's suicide, and pays tribute to his short time amongst us. It's a sad note to end on, but reminds us that this talented actor/singer left so much to be remembered for.
This film is long due for resurrection via high definition, and one hopes an enterprising company will treat us to a Blu-ray in the not-too distant future.