The Bride from Hell

Marriage is rarely an easy road. There are many misunderstandings, irritations, issues with the wider family and adjustments have to be made over time. In one of my favorite lines from Elvis Costello, he sings “Two little Hitler’s will fight it out; until one little Hitler does the other one’s will”. This is especially true if the newly married couple doesn’t really know each other all that well before taking their wedding vows. That is certainly the case in this 1971 Shaw film. They meet, they fall in love and get married faster than it takes to prepare a can of instant soup. For example, the husband knows very little about his new wife’s background – nothing about her family, her education, her habits, her political party, her favorite color, what flowers she likes or if she is an Aaron Kwok fan – and he also missed the small fact that she has been dead for twenty years and is a ghost coming back for revenge. These are the kinds of things that they need to work out if this marriage is to last. But they have love so everything is possible.
Yunpeng (Yang Fang) and his manservant Dahuozi (Got Siu Bo/Ko Saio Pao) are on their way home in the countryside one evening when it begins to get dark and worried about robbers or ghosts they go up to a house and ask the maid (Carrie Ku Mei) for lodging for the evening. Without receiving permission they still make themselves at home – but before going to sleep for the night decide to snoop around. Yunpeng walks into the bedroom of the mistress of the house and chances upon her naked form in bed. Oops he says sorry about that – and Anu (Margaret Hsing Hui) replies – hey I am still a virgin and you have ruined my reputation by having seen my naked body. Now of course he has to marry her – fortunately for him she is a bit of a hottie, which probably made the decision a whole lot easier. Meantime, the servant has done the same thing with the maid and they too agree to get married. This sure is easier than Internet dating.
So they rush back to his home and get married immediately – Anu behind the wedding veil of course and when he finally presents her to all of his uncles and aunts, they get up and run out of the house. Was it something I said? No they were simply able to see the ghost in her – the green coloring is always a dead giveaway – also the fact that three of them were responsible for killing and raping her (in that order) twenty years ago was a good clue. But no one bothers to tell Yunpeng – the husband is always the last to know. So they go about their happy home life until a Taoist priest (Seung Fung) tells him that from the dark shadows under his eyes he must be hooked up with a ghost. But Yunping doesn’t really seem to mind all that much – everyone has their faults. Still when his uncles begin to die and they try and burn her at the stake he begins to wonder if this is such a good thing – a ghost is one thing but a revengeful ghost is quite another matter – what will the neighbors think. So their bonds of love will have to be tested, as is the case from time to time for all married couples. One small helpful hint for all those who may suspect that they are married to a ghost – bite yourself and spit the blood on your spouse – if they shriek in pain you may be getting it on with a dead person.
This film has the feel of a complete throwaway from the Shaw Brothers – it clocks in at around 75 minutes, the production values are rock bottom for the Shaws, the special effects are dreadful and generally consist of giving her a green bad meal glow and the actors are definitely on their “B” list. There isn’t anything good to say about the script either – it still feels long at its running time and generates zero excitement or tension. I am surprised Margaret didn’t use being in this film as part of her defense years later when she was tried for killing her mother. Another interesting actor within the cast is Carrie Ku Mei – she was a very popular singer in the 1950’s – got into film – then for a while she made films for the Thai film industry before returning to Hong Kong. She provides the singing voice for Betty Loh Ti in the Chinese film opera “Dream of the Red Chamber” and was the singing voice in other films as well. Her brother was Joseph Koo who was one of the biggest composers of Cantopop and wrote many music scores for films also – four of which were Bruce Lee films.
I suppose though that one has to give the film some credit for simply covering the subject matter that it does. Ghost stories were not the huge staple of Hong Kong films back in 1971 that they are now. According to the HKIFF book “Phantoms of Hong Kong Cinema”, ghost movies in the 1950’s and 60’s were quite rare and often in the end they denied that ghosts even existed – i.e. it turned out to be a person pretending to be a ghost. It states, “Mandarin cinema shared with its Cantonese counterpart, the same psychological reservations towards the horror genre”. It wasn’t until after the world wide popularity of “The Exorcist” in 1974 that Hong Kong cinema took this genre to heart and it wasn’t really until the 1980’s when the supernatural took a hold of popular cinema with films like “Encounter of the Spooky Kind”, “The Dead and the Deadly” and a little later the series of Mr. Vampire films. Prior to this film one of the best-known ghost films was the 1960 “The Enchanting Shadow” that had been culled from the stories of Pu Songling. This film falls into that same tradition that the book terms “Liaozhai” after Pu’s book of short stories. In these a man often falls for a beautiful female ghost and is opposed by society – often in the form of a Taoist priest – this same theme was to be played out many more times after Tsui Hark’s “A Chinese Ghost Story” was a huge hit. Unfortunately, this film was just a quickie production that apparently vanished down a hole after its release.

Thanks to Michael Kistner for identifying the servant as Got Siu Bo/Ko Saio Pao - I knew I had seen him in other films but could not recall where - here are some that Michael provided:

Dragon Gate Inn (1967)
Swordsman at Large (1971)
Desperate Chase, The (1971)
Tournament, The (1974)
Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (1976)
Eagle's Claw (1977)
Instant Kung Fu Man (1977)
Fatal Needles vs. Fatal Fists (1978)
Filthy Guy (1978)
Young Dragons - Kung Fu Kids IV (1987)
Fist Full of Talons , A (1983)

My rating for this film: 3.0