Picture Of A Nymph (HK 1988)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/4/11
Director: Wu Ma
Martial Arts Director: Samo Hung
Cast: Lawrence Ng, Joey Wang, Yuen Biao, Wu Ma, Elizabeth Lee, cameo by Yuen Wah

Ah yes, this is exactly what I needed to see. After watching so many lackluster and uninteresting Hong Kong films lately, it was a total treat to revisit the 1980's with this delightful knock-off of "A Chinese Ghost Story" (1987). Ghost King (wickedly seductive Elizabeth Lee) is snatching brides, and her latest catch is Mo Chiu (Joey Wang). In an effort to escape, she kills herself and becomes a ghost, but Ghost King still pursues her. A naïve scholar named Tsui (Lawrence Ng) spies her one evening and falls in love with her ethereal beauty. He paints a picture of her, which Mo Chiu hides inside of while trying to evade Ghost King. Wu Ma is a singing Taoist priest who loves to bathe and is determined to exorcise Tsui and split the doomed lovers, but his adopted son Shih (Yuen Biao) pities them and stands in his way. After much hardship, they all finally team up to fight Ghost King in her own domain, in an attempt to save Mo Chiu's soul.

Films like this remind me of why I fell in love with Hong Kong cinema in the first place: gorgeous cinematography, crazy acrobatics, hyper-kinetic action, beautiful sets, fabulous costumes, fantastic art direction, and a wonderful sense of the bizarre. The visual effects are brilliant, even if they seem a bit tacky by today's standards. But it's such a treat to see real physical effects rather than digital imagery. It's so much more tactile and tangible. The wirework is superb and extremely graceful, which is something that's severely lacking these days - even in Hong Kong films. Wu Ma is quite amusing as the grumpy and eccentric priest, and the lovely Joey Wang delivers her familiar sad ghost routine. Yuen Biao and Lawrence Ng are mostly comedic foils, but Yuen Biao also gets a chance to show off some acrobatics thanks to Samo Hung's action direction. The story is a bit weak and confusing at times, but the presentation and energy is spot-on. Good stuff if you're a fan of the genre.