Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Chinese Ghost Story (2011) – review

Director: Wilson Yip

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

I find myself in debt to Leila again as she informed me of the release of this remake of the classic 1987 film A Chinese Ghost Story. The film itself I found on YouTube with English subs but, as I looked into it, I saw a lot of (almost inevitable) negativity aimed towards this remake of the original film.

This, of course, ignores the fact that the 1987 film is itself a remake of the Shaw Brother’s 1960 movie Enchanting Shadow. As for the vampire nature of the films, Enchanting Shadow most definitely had a vampiric element. It is more difficult to say with the 1987 film and we had a pole that decided the film was properly a TMtV Honourable Mention. As for this version there is definite energy vampirism and several tropes that correlate with Western media based vampirism.

Louis Koo as Yin Chek Ha
The actual start of the film gives a prologue that is very different to the other two films. It follows the Taoist swordsman character present in all three films, Yin Chek Ha (Louis Koo), when he was a younger man. It sees him hunting a demon (or ghost, but the subtitles call them demons), Siu Sin (Yifei Liu). In the sequence that is (to be fair) a little confused, we do see her leap on him and apparently go to bite the neck. It doesn’t happen, however, and the two fall in love. For reasons under-explored he decides that demons and humans cannot be together and causes her to lose her memories of him. This is caused, we later discover, by use of his “mighty weapon” (which could lead to all sorts of schoolboy jokes). When he goes to help his brethren defeat the tree demon Lou Lou (Kara Hui) he does not have that weapon and she is injured, banished but not destroyed, also two demon hunters die and another, Thunder (Siu-Wong Fan), loses an arm and kicks Yin Chek Ha out of the order.

Shaoqun Yu as Ning Choi San 
As the film starts proper it follows Ning Choi San (Shaoqun Yu) and, in homage to the 1987 film the same theme music plays. However Ning Choi San is an engineer sent to relieve the Black Mountain Village who have no water (rather than be a tax collector). He is captured by villagers (who refuse to listen to his story) and is about to have his hands cut off for stealing water when one of the villagers, Ti Nga (Jing Li), finds his imperial seal. Ti Nga is sent with him to the mountain along with workmen – who are actually all murderers shackled together, this job is their chance at redemption and pardon – as the villagers fear demons. There is a moment with him and a white fox (and candy) that may be something to do with Siu Sin but then the weather turns bad and they shelter in nearby Lan York Tze temple.

The reason I mention the fox is because we see in the prologue that Sui Sin loves candy, she doesn’t immediately attack Ning Choi San (although she also later says he doesn’t have the smell that corrupt men have) and at the finale he finds her body in the form of the fox. This confuses her with the fox spirit to some degree and may explain why she later shows fangs and elliptical pupils. Back to the film and Ning Choi San is looking at a deep pool of water surrounding a tree as the convicts are seduced by women. This seduction leads to the women sucking the lifeforce out of the convicts. Sui Sin, meanwhile, is trying to seduce (half-heartedly I felt) Ning Choi San.

energy vampirism
Ti Nga is nearly got by a demon when Yin Chek Ha comes to the rescue. In this scene he despatches most of the demons bar two (snake spirits) and Sui Sin. When we see one of the demons die it sort of dusts and we see a rather bat like outline in the effect. Ning Choi San sees him kill one and takes it as a murder and thus runs with Sui Sin, trying to protect her. Of course any pursuit he offers is limited as he still loves Sui Sin and the love triangle detracts from the storyline when compared to the very simple love story portrayed in the other two versions of the tale. It also makes Yin Chek Ha much more of a primary character.

show fangs
Other vampire-like moments, then, take the form of the fact that the demons are not sucking life energy for themselves but for Lou Lou. This is to help heal her and break the banishment but she does repeatedly say that she is hungry in reference to the energy. Lou Lou later threatens to rip a heart out and drink the blood. I mentioned the fangs that Sui Sin shows, she also threatens to bite someone. As you can see there are tropes used that are familiar but the most telling factor is the sucking of energy, via a seduction, that is then used to feed the central enemy.

Kara Hui as Lou Lou
The film itself is not bad but not a patch on the two predecessor films. They took it in an unusual direction with the love triangle but it distracted more than enhanced. Ning Choi San doesn’t have the air of the innocent/fool archetype that the character had in the previous versions, partly an acting issue and partly because the film couldn’t concentrate on him as much (he just vanishes off from time to time) and the film feels a tad disjointed because of it. The final confrontation is spectacular, however.

All in all 5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

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