Story: The tax collector Ning Tsai-Shen (Leslie Cheung) is arriving in a small town. But because it has been
raining heavily, his tax notes are completely ruined. He can neither collect money nor has he got any to afford
spending the night at some place. So he decides to take shelter in an old, abandoned temple. There he meets the
Taoist swordsman Yen Che-Hsia (Wu Ma), whom, because of his strange behavior, he accidentally mistakes for a criminal.
Yen warns Ning that he should leave this temple as fast as possible, because it is said to be haunted by ghosts.
But Ning doesn't take him seriously.
The following night, Ning is enchanted by a wonderful female voice. He becomes friends with the young Nieh Hsiao-tsing (Joey Wong), not knowing that she actually is a ghost, who seduces men, so that a tree ghost can feed on their life force. Against her will, Nieh has to do what the tree-ghost tells her to, but she happens to fall in love with Ning. Eventually, she decides to help Ning, who wants to free himself from the tree ghost and who also wants, with a helping hand from the sword fighter, to free Nieh from the claws of the tree ghost.
Review: After all these years it's quite hard to write a review about a movie, which must have been
the one to make many of us get interested in Asian cinema in the first place. With its incredibly crazy genre-mixture
"A Chinese Ghost Story" takes us into a world, which has been something completely new to many of us. Nowadays this
movie is a classic and actually already enjoys cult status. The amazing, but by now rather amusingly old, special
effects add to its unique charm, as well as its great pictures and those loveable wacky characters.
As you might already expect from the title, the story is not that groundbreaking, but rather provides a wonderful
framework, in which the extremely well fleshed-out characters can interact. For starters, there is the simple-minded
but good-natured tax collector Ning, who suddenly finds himself caught up in a world full of ghosts, something he, up to
this point, actually only heard of in stories. The unfortunate ghost Nieh, on the other hand, is forced to procure
men for a demon, so that it can win on power. Nieh doesn't waste any time and seduces one man after the other, most
of the time only those, who deserve to die, natch. Nieh, portrayed by Joey Wong, (who really has the charming looks for
this part) is suddenly getting some problems with Ning, because he appears to be a bit shy. In addition, he seems to be
one of the "good guys". A wonderful love-story between a man and a ghost starts to unfold and it comes along without any
While Ning personates the "hero" with whom the viewer is gradually introduced to this fascinating world, and who is
played by Leslie Cheung ("Farewell My Concubine", "Days of Being Wild") quite nicely, Wu Ma is the one responsible for the
action sequences. His portrayal of an odd old Taoist swordsmaster, who doesn't mind turning everything into a
punch line or giving us a "singing interlude", is just a lot of fun to watch.
He's also the one responsible for some of the fights. They are quite nice to look at and the filmmakers know how to delight us with a lot of wire-work and some fast hectic cuts, adding some dynamics to it. But all in all they're not choreographed too complex or are really impressive. On the other hand, they don't have to be, because after all this movie is supposed to be a fantasy flick and as such, it is much more important for Yen to know a magical trick or two. That's why he's allowed to throw around some fireballs out of his palms, and with his holy Chinese characters he's able to hold back quite a few ghosts, too. How cool is that!
The special effects, which were used to bring the ghouls or the tree ghost on screen, aren't really convincing: the undead were shot with a time-consuming stop-motion technique and the gigantic all-devouring tongue might seem a bit ridiculous to some viewers, but "A Chinese Ghost Story" doesn't make a secret of that. The story is told with a touch of irony and those more or less moderate effects create an incredible (B-Movie) charm.
Something else that needs to be pointed out is the cinematography. The ghost story is presented with great pictures and a nice dark tinge of blue. Of course, you also need an awful lot of fog and wind to make the leaves fly around. This world might seem artificial, but that's exactly why we like plunging into it - it takes us into a fairy tale. Ching Siu-Tung, best known for movies like "Swordsman III: The East is Red" or his fight-choreography for movies like "Hero", knows how to win us over with his vision of a typical Chinese ghost story. Moreover, you can't miss the fact that Tsui Hark had a hand in this as a producer, too, for the settings and costumes turned out really great.
Characteristic for "A Chinese Ghost Story" is the unfamiliar but well-done genre-mix. Actually being a
horror-fantasy-flick, it also has its qualities as a wonderful love-story with some drama in it, which of course has
also some exaggerated melodramatic scenes, but still never seems to become unbelievable. As it is simply characteristic
for good Hong Kong movies. Something that can only be found here in this form and nowhere else.
What is really brilliant at some point is the abstrusely twisted humor, which blends into the movie just perfect. Even the scenes with the undead, which are actually supposed to be quite scary, start to have something really funny to them, as Ning survives some rather life-threatening situations just because of his clumsiness. Also a great running-gag is the two bounty hunters, who jump into action after every single uttered "Halt" (even if it really just meant that somebody wanted to tell something to someone real quick) and want to arrest the potential criminal. Some typical Chinese humor, but served in a reserved manner.
"A Chinese Ghost Story" has its flaws, for instance there are some few slowdowns in the middle of the movie, but still this is a Hong Kong classic not without a reason. A great creepy love-story, some nice b-movie-flair, a good sense of humor and a great soundtrack round off the overall picture. You'll love getting lost in this fantasy-world. For some nostalgic reasons, the movie gets a bonus point, leaving me with nothing more to say, but: highly recommended!