A Chinese Ghost Story 2

“The story continues”.

So begins this terrific sequel to the influential film that three years earlier had entranced the cinematic world with its magical mixture of imagery, music, romance, special effects and the supernatural. Once again Tsui Hark and Ching Siu Tung fill up the screen with a sumptuous visual feast that is lyrically poetic and dreamily hypnotic. Like a vortex, the film pulls the viewer into another world where anything is possible – ghosts are unmasked to reveal heartbreakingly beautiful women, evil demons surreptitiously suck the life force out of humans, men burrow beneath the earth and fly above it by skateboarding on speeding swords and an impassioned midair-swirling kiss can save your very soul.

The mood of this film differs somewhat from the first in a number of respects. The first half of this film is surprisingly comedic in nature and has a number of scenes that are slyly amusing – while the second half becomes a tale of high adventure – a small band of heroes – trying to save the Kingdom from evil doers. To some degree, romance and the supernatural take on a lower profile in this story.
In what appears to be a few years after the first film ended, Ning (Leslie Cheung) is still burdened down and heavy of heart by his passionate love for Sian but he has sadly resigned himself to never seeing her ghostly image again – “if she reincarnated, she would be a baby now”. He has returned to the small town where it all began before, but it is now desolate and dangerous as criminals roam the land. Bounty hunters mistake Leslie for a criminal and throw him into jail where he is scheduled to be executed. An old bearded prisoner helps him escape by showing him a tunnel through the wall (ala Alice in Wonderland) and also gives Leslie an amulet as good luck. Tsui Hark perhaps makes a political statement by having the old man refuse to escape because in jail he is able to write whatever he pleases without fear of censorship or death.
On the outside, Leslie sees a solitary horse and thinking that the old man had arranged it, jumps on it to escape. In the bushes taking care of business is a young Taoist priest, Jacky Cheung, who goes after Leslie by chasing him underground. They meet up at a deserted inn that appears to be haunted and team up after being attacked by a giant demon monster. Here the film indulges in a long but very funny routine when Leslie accidentally uses a spell to freeze Jacky – but he doesn’t know the undoing spell and Jacky can use only his eyes to try and warn Leslie that the monster is right behind him. A bit of inside humor takes place earlier when one Canto-pop star Leslie sings and the other Canto-pop star, Jacky, complains how bad it is and stuffs paper into his ears.
The two of them are also attacked by a party of tree swinging white clad “ghosts” who turn out to be all too human. In a stunningly beautiful sequence the mask is ripped off one to reveal a ravishing Michelle Reis (Moon) and then another mask is removed to display an equally radiant Joey Wong (Windy). Initially, Leslie thinks it’s his Sian come back, but he soon realizes that Joey is flesh and blood and not his beloved. It turns out that Joey and Michelle are the daughters of a high court official, Lord Fu (Lau Siu-Ming who actually played the Tree Monster in the first film), who has been falsely arrested for treason. They plan to rescue him.
Because of the amulet given to Leslie, the group of rebels mistakes him for a legendary wise man, Elder Chu, (though the girls are quite confused and attracted by his boyish good looks) and Tsui Hark again gets playful. In perhaps a joke directed at film critics who read too much into a film, the rebels search for hidden meanings in everything Leslie says or the poetry that he recites – when in fact it means exactly what it says.
In any event, they all band together (joined at one point by swordsman Waise Lee) to attempt to save Lord Fu from what turns out to be a monstrous conspiracy led by the court eunuch (Lau Shun). It becomes so perilous that Leslie has to find Wu Ma (the Taoist priest in the first film) and persuade him to enter into the fight to save the Emperor. In the final fight – against a giant centipede among other things – there is a large utilization of CGI – which are not particularly sophisticated but quite fun.
Though this film is a complete pleasure to watch, it didn’t have quite the weight or emotional impact of the first film. Or maybe I am just a sucker for a love story between a human and a ghost – but I very much missed Sian too.
One thing that struck me as intriguing is how the film is a partial throwback to the HK films of the 50s and 60s in terms of its portrayal of the male character. In these older films the man was often shown to be somewhat effete and more of a thinker than action oriented – as exemplified in some King Hu films such as Touch of Zen and Legend of the Mountain. There were even many instances in which men in the movies were actually played by female actresses – Ling Bo and Yam Kim-fai were two famous actresses who often did this. Then with the advent of the martial arts films in the late 1960’s the “masculine male” made a comeback in HK films. Chang Che who led this resurgence to a large extent calls it “yanggang” in his essay in the book “The Making of Martial Arts – As Told by the Filmmakers and Stars”. But here Tsui Hark – a traditionalist in many ways - brings it back with the character of Ning. His character is completely ineffectual and almost feminine – and like the proverbial damsel in distress he is constantly having to be saved by either of the two women or the (sexless) Taoist priests or just plain good luck.

My rating for this film: 8.5




DVD Information:

Distributed by Media Asia/Mega Star

The transfer is excellent - a lovely viewing experience.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

Subtitles:  Chinese (Traditional), English, Chinese (Simplified), Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian or Nil.

9 Chapters

It includes it's own trailer and the Media Asia montage.

The sub-titles are easy to read, but a little bit irritating. There are numerous misspellings throughout and for some reason the Joey Wong ghost character is called Sian in this film, but Tsing in the first one and the Leslie character has slightly different names in each.

There is bio information on Tsui Hark, Ching Siu-Tung, Joey Wong, Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung and Michelle Reis.

Here are a few of the facts given on Michelle - She was born on June 20th, 1970 (ow - just hit the big 30!) of Chinese and Portuguese  parents. She won the Miss HK and Miss International Chinatown pageants in 1988. She worked in television for a while until her film debut in a film called "The Declaration of Help" in 1990.