Tsui Hark only produced this one, but this film is still listed under his name in the Director’s Index, so one can still call this one of his films. A Chinese Ghost Story is another of those films that’s exactly what it says on the tin, so if you’re not a fan of Chinese films or fables about ghosts, you might want to steer clear. For those open to it, however, this will likely be a delightful stylistic endeavor to undertake, though I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it a must see. You’ll like what you get, and I think that’s enough.
A young tax collector finds himself staying the night at the local temple, which unbeknownst to him is haunted. Upon meeting the spirit, however, instead of being led to his death by her, they end up falling in love, and through fortuitous circumstance he ends up braving a trip into hell itself to rest her soul in peace. The film is a whirlwind of effects, cinematography, and production value. Everything from wire-fu acrobatics and fight scenes to mist-filled forests and dimly lit interiors is all designed to reflect the fable that is the main story. The effects are quite spectacular for their time, and thanks to the medium of the story they come across as even more believable. As for the storytelling, it was satisfactory, if only because it was a fable and thus we could suspend our disbelief a little further, though the completely out-of-the-blue kidnapping of the ghost damsel in the third act kinda struck me over the head somewhat more than I’d have liked. The main character is a bit of a blissful idiot, but in this story, he’d pretty much have to be for it to work, even if it got kind of annoying at times. And, of course, what would a low-budget Chinese film be without bad overdubbing? Not a low-budget Chinese film, that’s what.
Overall, the film’s execution hindered its effect a little too much for me. Even though I liked the film’s look, feel, and mood, it was just too disorganized for me to really fall in love with it. Everything was too much of a blur, and you could barely tell what was taking place in the film’s action sequences. While this has some influence on the wuxia genre of today, I don’t think this was as much of a progenitor as the Book made it out to be. It was nice, and I’m glad to have seen it, but I wouldn’t have been too upset had I not been able to watch this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10