Review Date: 5/8/11
Director: King Hu
Cast: Shih Chun, Hsu Feng, Sylvia Chang
Huh? Definitely a misfire from one of Hong Kong's most celebrated directors, this is a ponderous and tiresome ghost story that's disjointed and overly confusing. Scholar Ho (Shih Chun) is tasked with translating and copying a powerful Buddhist sutra that can bring people back from the dead. In an effort to find a quiet and peaceful place to do his work, he ends up in a strange village populated by equally strange people. Ho is bullied by the townsfolk into marrying a former concubine named Melody (fiercely pretty Hsu Feng), who has her own plans for Ho and the sutra. Ho is also seduced by a young girl named Cloud (adorable Sylvia Chang), which undermines his relationship with Melody and causes her to reveal her true nature. Everything boils down to a bizarre supernatural showdown between a couple of Taoist monks and the spirits of the village, with Ho stuck in the middle.
Apart from some nice cinematography here and there, the film is pretty much a complete waste. The narrative is disjointed and the bizarre editing feels like a rushed attempt to complete an unfinished film. Like many of King Hu's films, the pacing is appallingly slow and the plot is dominated by tiresome verbal sparring. There's no action to speak of and the only dramatic tension comes in the form of sly glances being passed between characters. The film also likes to insert stock nature footage, and love scenes cut away to images of mating insects (including a not so subtle scene of a female spider killing her mate, accompanied by evil laughter). Very odd. The acting definitely harkens back to classical forms that were popular in the 60's, and the whole thing feels like a play more than a movie. Shih Chun's bumbling character is totally uninteresting, and he spends the entire film being either puzzled or confused. Perpetually bitchy Hsu Feng is lovely throughout, and really tears up the screen when her temper flares. A young Sylvia Chang is also quite adorable and helps to keep things interesting.
Unfortunately, I found the whole thing lacking and difficult to follow. I also found myself looking at my watch every five minutes wondering when it was going to be over. If you're in the mood for a Chinese ghost story, there are far better options out there to explore.
Notes On The DVD Release: The remastered audio on the DVD is downright awful, so try to opt for the original Mandarin soundtrack if you can. Like many remastered Chinese films, the new dub has an annoying reverb effect applied to it for no good reason. Even worse, all of the background music and sound effects are muted whenever people are speaking, which is disruptive and absolutely inexcusable.