Ghost of the Mirror

Ghost of the Mirror (1974) is a slow paced but alluring and atmospheric supernatural film that interestingly seems to be attempting to combine a touch of King Hu along with a standard Taiwanese melodrama. It is in fact a ghost weepie. It came out not long after Brigitte Lin’s film debut, Outside the Window, and Hu’s A Touch of Zen. The director of this film, Sung Chuen Sau, directed Outside the Window and brings back his now “star” for this film. One could also speculate that this film might have influenced two films that came out years later.
Much of the movie takes place in an old overgrown compound that is very reminiscent of the “haunted” compound in A Touch of Zen. Interestingly, it also has the main actor from Hu’s film (and three of his others) Shih Jun as the main character in this film. On top of this, their characters are very similar – scholarly, devoted to their mothers, not action oriented. In Touch he of course falls in love with the female warrior, played by Hsu Feng, and does her bidding while here he falls in love with a ghost and gives in to her completely. The film also feels clearly influenced by King Hu’s classical Chinese set design and also by his effortless camera tracking shots.
After watching this, one also has to be curious whether it in turn later influenced King Hu for his 1979 Legend of the Mountain. In that film a scholar (again played by Shih Jun) travels to a remote location to copy Buddhist sutras (as does the character in Ghost of the Mirror) and he meets a ghost (Hsu Feng) that he falls in love with. In that case though Hsu Feng is in fact an evil ghost intent on harming him while Brigitte has no such intention – though an evil master controls her to some extent. Parts of Ghost of the Mirror also reminded me of Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story - an innocent scholar, a beautiful female ghost, an evil androgynous presence that forces her to perform evil deeds, the man and ghost fall in love and have to fight for the ghost’s soul. In this case, the evil turns into a gigantic dragon that encircles the house that is being protected by the copied sutras – a scene very similar to one in A Chinese Ghost Story. Perhaps Ghost of the Mirror was derived from the same source as A Chinese Ghost Story – Pu-Sing Ling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio which had already been used for earlier supernatural film tales.
Shih Jun arrives at this isolated house to discover that a legend exists about a ghost that lures men into the well from which they are never seen again. While he is staying there he witnesses this happen with a workman. One day he looks down into the well and sees a giggly and smiling Brigitte beckoning him to come join her. Showing more restraint than I could, he is able to just stop himself. She soon begins to visit him and explains her tragic past. She begins to cook, sew and clean for him – this is my kind of ghost! – and of course they begin to fall in love as men and beautiful ghosts generally do.
Taking a rather interestingly liberal viewpoint, the mother visits her son to find the two of them together but rather than being horrified that he is in love with a ghost she just shows motherly concern that their different backgrounds could be an obstacle towards happiness (similar to the class differences that pop up in many of the Taiwanese weepies). From time to time Brigitte turns a shade of pale green when her Master tries to get her to strangle Shih, but love always stops her. But love between a man and ghost has more problems than most loves especially with evil knocking on the door.
Ravishing doesn’t even begin to describe Brigitte in her luminous ghostly role. She is bewitching and intoxicating. So milky sweet are her imploring eyes that they seem to drip with honey, her lips form pouts that should be declared national landmarks, she exudes so much innocence and freshness that you wish it could have been captured in a jar and sealed forever. Brigitte is simply devastatingly beautiful in this film – like a sweet wrecking ball of men’s hearts. For anyone wanting to see her in one of her pre-1980 films I would recommend this one because, first the film is very solid and secondly it is available on DVD in a nice widescreen transfer. Just watch out for those close-ups near the end – they will sear your retinas.

My rating for this film: 7.0