Friday, April 17, 2009

A Chinese Ghost Story

Sien nui yau wan; fantasy, Hong Kong / China, 1987; D: Ching Siu Tung, S: Leslie Cheung, Lau Siu-Ming, Joey Wang, Ma Wu, Hu Dawei

Weak tax collector Ling Choi Sin looses some documents when it starts to rain, which is why he can't collect the money in some bar. He decides to stay overnight in a forest temple and thus stumbles upon the ghost of woman Xiao: even though she has the assignment to kill every human, she falls in love with him and establishes a contact. In the morning, Ling doesn't even notice the demon skeletons in the basement and gains admiration of the villagers who are amazed how he survived in the temple. When he finds the picture of Xiao, he returns to her that night but the demons almost discover him. Together with priest Yan, he fights against the Tree Demon who holds Xiao as a slave and attacks them with it's tongue. Ling and Yan even go to Hell and liberate Xiao. They bury her ashes and thus free her ghost that disappears.

The originator and the best addition of the cult Hong Kong fantasy trilogy, "A Chinese Ghost Story" is a very good, opulent and esoteric Wuxia epic film that blends action with horror, poetry with humor, and its appropriately exotic in depicting Asian culture of the 15th Century, where the story is set. Director Ching Siu Tung directs the film elegantly and proportionately mysterious, using amazing camera movements to impress with the visual style (the POV shot of the ghost entering into the mouth of its victim; women flying with wonderful dress veils blazing in the wind) that appeases a few shortcoming and omissions. But above all this isn't a monumental spectacle, but a quiet romantic story about little people. Namely, the most beautiful moment is still when female ghost Xiao hides the hero in her bath tub so that the others won't discover him: she begs all present guests not to look at her while she disrobes, which gives him the opportunity to dive out and get some air, but then he spots her naked. And in the end, she even enters the bath tub herself, with him inside, so that the guests would leave her alone. Such a sophisticated moment of intimacy and romance is one of the most beautiful and sweetest things of the 80s Asian cinema, a moment that simply melts you away.


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