A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

01/17/2019 06:53

Film: A Chinese Ghost Story (Sien nui yau wan)

Year: 1987

Director: Siu-Tung Ching

Writer: Kai-Chi Yuen

Starring: Leslie Cheung, Joey Wang and Wu Ma



This was a film that I had heard about from an encyclopedia of horror films so I put it on my list of films to see. I came in as blind as I could and I actually got a copy from the library. The official synopsis is after a string of bad luck, a debt collector has no other choice than to spend the night in a haunted temple, where he encounters a ravishing female ghost and later battles to save her soul from control of a wicked tree demon.

We kick off with a man venturing through the land. I immediately noticed that this film was part comedy with some of the things that happen to him. It does well at establishing that Ling Choi San (Leslie Cheung) is a timid man. He has a string of bad luck before arriving in town. It is there that he tries to do his job as a debt collector. Because his book gets wet, the shop owner doesn’t believe he owes anything. With no money, Ling is forced to stay in a haunted temple.

At the temple, Ling is caught in a fight between Yin Chek Hsia (Wu Ma), a Taoist monk, and another man. They finally part ways when it comes to a draw and they insult each other. Ling is told by Yin that he can’t stay there. Ling goes into a room where we see above him are the bodies of odd looking human like creatures.

We then meet a young woman, Lip Siu Sin (Joey Wang). She is with a man, but she flees when she hears Ling. Something goes into this man’s mouth and dries him out. He becomes like the creatures we saw back inside the temple. Lip then meets Ling. They seem to fall for each other. Yin tries to tell Ling when he finds him later at the temple that is too dangerous for him there.

With renewed confidence, Ling goes into town and collects his debt. That night he seeks out Lip, but discovers there is something that is not quite right about her and those that she lives with. One of them of is Siu-Ming Lau, which the truth behind her is quite interesting. Ling won’t take no for an answer though and ends up learning the truth from Yin. There is a Tree Devil and ghosts there.

Now I’m not going to come out and act like I completely understood everything that happened in this film. Part of this to be honest is that I don’t know enough about Chinese or Hong Kong culture. This film is interesting that it is based off of a novel, so that is one thing. What I did get from this film is that it has a theme of forbidden love. Lip is a ghost, which seems to be more like a demon. She appears as a real person and then has to disappear by dawn. There is an interesting thing that happens with her as the film plays out as well.

Getting back to the forbidden love, the two main characters fall for each other. It also seems to be an allegory, because before she died, Lip came from a good family. Ling on the other hand is poor. They are of different classes and only came together, because of her being a ghost. He falls for her before he knows the truth, so it also has the aspect of true love. Even going from this, the Tree Devil wants to marry off Lip to a powerful evil spirit, which can be seen as an arranged marriage and one that is loveless to create an alliance, which was very popular back in olden times.

This film also has the unique fighting style where things are pretty unrealistic. I’m not the biggest fan of this in films. Anything supernatural that Lip does, I’m on board for as what she is. I did have some issue with Yin, because he is human. I can’t hold it against the film too much, as this is popular in their culture. I have come to realize that it just isn’t for me.

I do have to say that the editing of the film is well done. It has your normal run time and moves through at a good pace. There were some things that I kind of felt got to be repetitive, but nothing that really hurt the film. I do think this was well done and it has an interesting ending. I thought it was building to something much happier than what we got, which I did like.

The acting for this film is a little bit hard to rate for me. Watching this with subtitles on, I can’t always focus on what is going on in front of me. Especially being such a story guy, it made it difficult as well. I do think that Cheung played his role very well. He does come off as a timid guy. His character gets stronger though as his love builds and I thought that was good for the film. Wang was cute and I thought she did well in her role. She is interesting in the things that she has to do for her master, but she finds someone she loves. She tries to protect him while accepting her fate. Ma was good as the warrior Taoist monk. I think that is an interesting aspect in that they have religious type fighters. It is needed for how this film plays out. The rest of the cast I thought was fine. Some of it was a bit over the top, but being part comedy, that makes sense.

Effects for this film were interesting as well. The flying around stuff looks good and I didn’t realize they had this mastered back in 1987. There is what looks to be stop motion for the mummified people we see. It doesn’t look great, but I actually didn’t mind it. I thought it came out better than what CGI would have done. There are some effects that aren’t as good with others that were just fine. I do have to say that this film was shot very well. It looked pretty good and I was impressed with that.

The music I wasn’t the biggest fan. When they went with the more traditional music, I was on board for it. It helped set the mood for the scenes. There are a few almost musical-esque scenes which I wasn’t the biggest fan. Yin has almost a rap that felt out of place. I did like the song that was played at the end a lot. I would say overall the score of the film was decent.

Now with that said, even thought his film isn’t for me I think it is pretty solid. I do find the story interesting and would like to learn more about the Chinese/Hong Kong cultural to better understand what is going on. I like the concept of forbidden love and trying to make it work. It is an age-old idea that is seen throughout cultures. I thought the acting and the effects of the film were solid. Not all of it worked, but it didn’t ruin it. It moves at a good pace and is shot pretty solid. The music also didn’t hit on everything for me. Overall I would say that this film is above average. I do think there is an audience that would really like it and would recommend if this is a type of film you are into to check it out.


My Rating: 7 out of 10