Friday, 24 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: A Chinese Ghost Story (aka Sien Nui Yau Wan) (1987)

A Chinese Ghost Story (aka Sien Nui Yau Wan) (1987)
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Joey Wang, and Ma Wu
Running Time: 92 min

  Sadly, I haven't seen as many horror movies as I really should from Hong Kong.  Most of the older ones that I've seen involve hopping zombies and lots of martial arts sequences, which I'm okay with.  The director, Siu-Tung Ching has worked as a stunt Co-ordinator on films like John Woo's The Killer and Sam Raimi's Spider-man, so it should be interesting to see how he incorporates these skills into this ghost story.

  A young tax collector, Ling Choi San travels across the rural country sides empty landscapes and the rainy weather to perform his job.  Before coming to the next town, he witnesses a swordsman getting his revenge on some bandits.  After murdering the bandits, the swordsman causally offers the hungry Ling some bread, which he accepts in fear and runs away from the swordsman to then continues his journey into town.
  When he arrives in town, he learns that the rain has destroyed his ledgers and none of the merchants will pay their taxes because he has no proof of what they owe.  Broke, he asks the people in the town if there is any place that he can stay the night for free and jokingly someone recommends the Lan Ro Temple, which is suppose to be haunted.  Unfortunately, Ling has no other choice and heads to the temple to stay the night.  On his way, he is chased by wolves and when he arrives at the temple, he finds himself into the middle of a battle of two swordsman.  One is the swordsman that he met early on the road to town and the other, Lip Siu Sin seems to be living at the temple as well.  Luckily, they're brothers and they were just practicing, so Lip tells Ling that this is not the best place to stay because it isn't safe but Ling doesn't care and heads to the other side of the temple to get some shut eye.  The other swordsman leaves the temple and is seduced by a beautiful ghost.  As they are making out, an evil tongue interrupts and the swordsman has his soul sucked out of him. Dang.
  Later that night, Ling meets up with the same beautiful ghost and she tries to seduce him too, but Ling is too nice and misses all the signs.  She realizes that Ling is too nice a guy to be murdered and lets him off by telling him the temple is too dangerous to stay in and he should leave in the morning.
  Eventually, Ling and the ghost become friends and he finds out that he must help save her soul before she has to marry the Dark Lord of the Mountain.  Can this poor humble tax collector save this beautiful ghost for the torments of marriage and free her soul or will they both suffer this abominable after life together under this demons control?

  This is a great horror, action, comedy film.  It really has everything, like some very incredible wire work, there's some awesome martial arts/sword battles, it's got ghosts, demons, the undead and some very funny situations, that had me laughing out loud.  Director Siu-Tung Ching (Witch From Nepal, Duel to Death) tells an incredible fun story with some very out there visuals that are not to be missed.  Ching definitely brings his years of experience as a stuntman and embeds it into the film, with some incredible high flying scenes and a fantastic battle at the end of the film.
  Also, what really brings this home is how funny the film is.  It's the over the top silliness that just pops up in some of these scenes that make this so enjoyable to watch.  The comedic timing and facial expressions that Leslie Cheung (Farewell My Concubine, A Better Tomorrow) (RIP), who played Ling Choi San, had at times were just incredible.  Along with, Joey Wang (City Hunter, Ming Ghost), who played the crusty swordsman Lip Siu Sin, who plays well off not only Cheung but the creatures in the film as well.  
  Finally, there are so many great production elements in this film, like a stop-motion sequences of the dead growing in the temple after Ling arrives, or the make up and special effects team sucking the soul out of the swordsman and there is a fantastic tongue monster, that will make you chuckle and terrify you at the same time.  And this incredible talent all culminates in the last battle, which is a tour to force and the true highlight of the film.
  There isn't that much to complain about here.  However, this isn't your typical horror movie here though but a film that takes from a lot of different genres to tell a great story.  It spends some time developing the relationship between the Ling character and the ghost, which creates of a rom com feel to the film but it's necessary for the film because this relationship makes the ending that much better. 
 Also, it isn't extremely gory and the human body count is minimal.  Which is alright because the cast is small and most of them are already dead.  The zombies/undead have a more dried up look to them, like a mummy which is still pretty cool.  However, there are a ton of them smashed to bits in the end.

This is a fantastic film for any horror fan who enjoys Hong Kong cinema or a good ghost story.  Again, it has some incredible battle scenes and the ending is really impressive.  It's a charming ghost story that you don't want to miss and it's worth reading the subtitles to.


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