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A Chinese Ghost Story [2011] - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Sien nui yau wan

China, Hong Kong 2011

Fantasy, Drama

Wilson Yip

Louis Koo
Liu Yifei
Yu Shaoqun
Kara Hui
Fan Siu-Wong
Elvis Tsui

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A Chinese Ghost Story [2011]

aka A Chinese Fairy Tale

Story: Demon hunter Yan (Louis Koo) falls in love with female demon Siu Sin (Liu Yifei) and she returns his feelings. As he is aware that demons and humans can't be together, he eventually takes away her memory of him. After that he fights a tree demon (Kara Hui) along with his partner Liu (Fan Siu-Wong) and they manage to seal it away. Years later the demeon tries to break the seal with the help of other demons he controls. For this he makes his female demon minions, among them Siu Sin as well, seduce men in order to suck out their life energy.
One day the official Ning (Yu Shaoqun) arrives in a village and the village chief asks him to go up to Black Mountain to look for a water source for them. Ning agrees to help them, but he doesn't know that the tree demon resides on that mountain. Siu Sin is supposed to seduce the official but since he has a pure heart she lets him get away. However, Ning has fallen in love with the demon and she also cares for him. At the same time the demon hunter Yan arives at the scene because he wants to prevent the impending breaking of the seal.

Review: "A Chinese Ghost Story" is a remake of the movie of the same name from 1987. The Chinese poster child fantasy story may actually deserve a more modern look, but the concern that the magic of the original couldn't be captured a second time were huge. And rightly so, as it sadly turns out. The remake by Wilson Yip, who actually is one of Hong Kong's best directors as "SPL" and "Ip Man" are proof of, is special effects-loaden popcorn entertainment without a soul. The emotionality of the original is nowhere to be found, the characters can't display the charming traits as they did back then and the same goes for the sets and the screenplay. It's strange how so many things can go wrong with such a good source material at hand.

4th Period Mystery - Film Screenshot 11

However, Wilson Yip has made an interesting decision. The story around an official that stood in the foreground in the original, is now pushed to the background and instead the demon hunter is in the center of interest. Something good could have come out of this, but it didn't. Louis Koo ("Accident", "Overheard") is a good actor if he is cast for the right role, but as a demon hunter he seldomly makes a convincing impression. Unfortunately that goes for all three main characters. Yu Shaoqun replaces Leslie Cheung in his role and therefore carries the biggest burden, but in fact he doesn't have that much of a difficult job, because a naive official is rather easy to depict. Yet, he lacks any other character traits. The same goes for Liu Yifei ("Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils"), who takes over Joey Wong's part of the female demon.

4th Period Mystery - Film Screenshot 12

To be exact, Liu Yifei seems to be the obvious choice for the role. She radiates the pure beauty that is characteristic for the snake demon Siu Sin, but in the end she is still lacking something. She probably doesn't really benefit from the averagely written screenplay either. Basically a love triangle is supposed to be created that can be emotionally exploited especially at the end. However, during the showdown it becomes even the more apparent how unsuccessful Wilson Yip was in making us feel emotionally involved with any of the three characters. There were tears supposed to be shed, but actually we are utterly untouched. You just have to shake your head over this and by that the film has also failed in the most important respect, since it was the love story that worked so well in the original.

What the remake also lacks is a fascinating fantasy story! In fact, it looks better on paper than on screen. But why is that? The special effects, which were outsourced to be done by a South Korean company, really look exceptionally well. At times there is even some originality to applaud the filmmakers for, but the special effects stand in no real connection to the story. All too often we are reminded of special effect heavyweights like "Van Hellsing", but this isn't real captivating action after all. In fact it's those scenes that you will find yourself yawning in the most. And this even though there are ideas like a water bubble that slows down the enemy's movement or a sea of leaves in which Yan is about to drown. How is it possible that instead we actually want back the cheap stop motion technique with which the undead in the original movie were put to (undead) life?

4th Period Mystery - Film Screenshot 13

There is also something positive to note. Apart from the special effects the costumes and the sets manage to impress on a visual level, too. And yet all of that somehow lacks magic and soul. Main reason for that is that the director didn't actually focus on the story, but instead presents us with it as a kind of accessory to all the special effects. That makes "A Chinese Ghost Story [2011]" a movie that demands of you to check your brain at the entrance. Sadly, all modern fantasy movies seem to be made according to this pattern. The disappointment is huge despite lowered expectations. For those who know the original the only real emotional scene is that in which the original song by Leslie Cheung is to be heard at the end. There is nothing like a little bit of nostalgia. Thus, even newcomers should swallow the bitter pill, put up with some bad special effects and just watch the original movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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