A Chinese Ghost Story

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Pu Songling’s Tales from a Chinese Studio is a Qing Dynasty collection of stories of the supernatural. It has been the source material for many movie adaptations, and among them is the beloved 1987 Hong Kong horror romantic comedy A Chinese Ghost Story. A 2011 remake was made in honor of the deceased actor Leslie Cheung. It stars Louis Koo, Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei. Alterations to the plot and characters were made to accommodate the attention span of a modern audience, turning it out successfully as an over the top Chinese blockbuster. It certainly is a spectacle, with grand digital effects that suck out the subtleties and mystery present in the original film.

This time a voiceover narration opens the film with exposition about demon hunter Yin Chek Ha’s brief romance with a fox spirit. Unable to reconcile himself with Siu Sin’s life draining nature, but unable to kill her, Yin Chek Ha tearfully wipes her memory of their relationship with a magical dagger. While lacking this weapon in a fight with a tree demon, a fellow demon hunter loses an arm and holds him in contempt. Years later a meek minor government official arrives at a village afflicted with drought. Ning Choi San and other villagers go searching for water in the haunted Black Mountain. Many of his companions are seduced and killed by fox spirits of an abandoned temple. Ning Choi San meets Siu Sin and their chaste fondness grows into love despite interference by Yin Chek Ha and the tree demon who wants the yang energy of every man on Black Mountain.

The new love triangle initially feels contrived but later becomes a source of interesting interpersonal tension. It seems fairly clear that Louis Koo as Yin Chek Ha was a casting based on looks. His acting is somewhat bland and all the attempts to make this action hero the butt of comedy come off as awkward. Yu Shaoqun faithfully copies the spirit of the lovable, pure-hearted Ning Choi San. Liu Yifei’s ethereal qualities make her a fair substitute for Joey Wong as a supernatural creature, and her ability to play off her character’s mood changes work well. However, I think she lacks the coy seductiveness that a fox spirit ought to possess. It would make more sense if she were presented as a sun-fearing ghost so that the atmospheric touches of blue light and mist could retain its weight. Supporting characters are given richer roles from the pompous village headman to the fantastic one armed demon hunter and sidekick. The final battle is an entertaining ride, fodder for the masses. The new A Chinese Ghost Story is fun to watch, but does not outshine the prestige of the original film.

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