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
Distributed by Media Asia/Mega Star
The transfer is excellent - a lovely viewing
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks
Subtitles: Chinese (Traditional), English,
Chinese (Simplified), Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian or Nil.
It includes it's own trailer and the Media
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
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.