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A Chinese Ghost Story
Chinese Ghost Story 2011

Liu Yifei and Yu Shaoqun make like Joey and Leslie in A Chinese Ghost Story.

AKA: A Chinese Fairy Tale  
Chinese: 倩女幽魂  
Year: 2011  
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun  
Writer: Charcoal Tan
Action: Ma Yuk-Sing, Alan Chui Chung-San, Fan Chin-Hung
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Crystal Liu Yifei, Yu Shaoqun, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Wang Danyi Li, Gong Xinliang, Lin Peng, Li Jing, Tsui Kam-Kong, Fung Hak-On
The Skinny: Wilson Yip's remake of the 1987 Chinese Ghost Story is OK for big budget audience fare, but it's impossible to forget that the original film exists and was also a whole lot better. Really, putting together a satisfactory remake of A Chinese Story was probably an impossible proposition. It remains impossible.
by Kozo:

Unless youíre completely cinema illiterate, you should know that Wilson Yipís 2011 fantasy adventure A Chinese Ghost Story (called A Chinese Fairy Tale in mainland China) is a remake of the 1987 Ching Siu-Tung classic A Chinese Ghost Story. Yipís new version modifies the love story between klutzy scholar Ning Choi-Shan (Yu Shaoqun) and forest spirit Siu Sin (Liu Yifei, playing a fox demon and not a ghost, as SARFT would require), creating a love triangle between those two and ghostbusting Taoist monk Yin Chek Ha. Previously, Yin Chek Ha was played by a unibrow-sporting Wu Ma, but here heís embodied by the much hunkier Louis Koo. The film opens with Yin and Siu Sin falling in love before duty impels Yin to remove Siu Sinís memory. Siu Sin is freed back into the forest while the tortured Yin continues in his quest to bring down the evil 10,000 year-old Tree Demon (Wai Ying-Hung).

Cue the beginning of the 1987 Chinese Ghost Story, with the arrival of Ning Choi-Shan. Tasked with finding water for a drought-suffering village (led by Hong Kong Cinema veteran Tsui Kam-Kong), Ning heads into the mountains where he meets Siu Sin in a loving slow motion shot stolen straight from the 1987 film. Yin Chek Ha shows up to rout the other evil spirits, but the presence of the amnesiac Siu Sin causes his face to contort with great emotional pain (Louis Koo calls this ďactingĒ). Unwilling to let Ning become food for her evil spirit sisters (Lin Peng and Gong Xinliang), Siu Sin hides him, and the two slowly begin to bond. Meanwhile, the Tree Demon still exists, and itís none-too-happy. Eventually, everything and everyone will collide in a winner-take-all battle for love, destiny and box office earnings. You know, just like the original.

Truthfully, thereís nothing terribly wrong with this remake of A Chinese Ghost Story. The film recalls the original with a number of solid reverential nods; the filmmakers reuse Leslie Cheungís classic song, and the film possesses the same costumes, character designs, and even the same "feel" as the original. Director Wilson Yip keeps things moving briskly, and collaborates with cinematographer Arthur Wong to create a spruced-up vision of that old Hong Kong Cinema feeling. Liberal use of dutch angles, blue backlighting and wirework add to the grateful familiarity. The visual effects are improved, but Yip lets the roughness of the production shine through, eschewing realism for a patently fake setting thatís obviously the work of the art department. Hong Kong Cinema was once celebrated for being deliriously, gorgeously fake, and Yip wisely retains that manufactured quality in his remake.

However, given audience familiarity with the original film, the new love triangle seems an odd fit. Granted, it gives Louis Koo and Liu Yifei more opportunities to share screen time, and Koo as a tortured romantic lead is something that female audiences would likely support. Also, Yin Chek Ha is called upon to be the butt of many jokes, and Koo is an ace at this sort of self-effacing comedy. Liu Yifei lacks Joey Wongís seductiveness, making her Siu Sin less enigmatic and alluring than Wongís take on the character. But Liu possesses the proper ethereal qualities to play Siu Sin, and looks great in the character's trademark robes. She also handles Siu Sin's emotional scenes well. All things considered, Liu is a fine choice for the role.

Unfortunately, the character of Ning Choi-San suffers. Yu Shaoqun gets Ningís endearing klutziness down, but he lacks the handsomeness of Leslie Cheung, which certainly added some attraction to the original film's star-crossed romance. Also, the love triangle twist essentially kneecaps Ning and Siu Sinís romance. With Ning marginalized by the script changes, he seems more like an interloper than Siu Sinís fated love. The fault isnít in Yuís performance - itís just that the film never seems to favor him, casting him as a pale replacement for the more passionate Yin Chek Ha. The supporting roles shore things up slightly. Wai Ying-Hung acts up a storm as the Tree Demon, and Fan Siu-Wong is surprisingly good as Yin Chek Haís estranged Taoist comrade. In his minor role, Tsui Kam-Kong (a.k.a. Elvis Tsui) doesnít do much, but itís great to see him simply because heís Tsui Kam-Kong.

A Chinese Ghost Story is fine for mass entertainment, but itís hard to ignore the filmís biggest issue: it really has no reason to exist, besides the obvious ďcha-chingĒ that the remake industry promises. Ultimately, it would be better if the Chinese film industry remade bad or forgotten movies (like they did with Painted Skin) instead of super classics that donít need improving. Or, if youíre going to remake a movie everyone has seen, make it really different instead of changing only a few details while retaining most everything else. But they didnít, and the result is only a modified clone of the classic original. In the end, this is a money play with little courage behind it Ė the filmmakers wanted the cash that comes with the brand, but feared the backlash to change things too much. The ultimate defense: the filmmakers did this for money, so the capitalist in us all of us should understand. But we donít have to like it. (Kozo, 2011)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
2-DVD Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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Image credit: Golden Sun Pictures Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen