In the thinly populated field of offshore Chinese animation, “A Chinese Ghost Story” is a considerable accomplishment, the result of four years’ work by Tsui Hark’s Hong Kong-based Film Workshop. Result is infused with many of Tsui’s own filmic trademarks, some touches of typically Cantonese humor and a childlike, naive style that Japanese anime simply don’t possess. In dubbed versions, this could prove a strong seller as a children’s item for the small screen. Though programmed in the Toronto festival’s Midnight Madness section, pic has nothing to damage tykes’ sensibilities.
Storyline bears no relation to the famous “Chinese Ghost Story” trilogy of martial arts fantasies produced by Tsui from 1987-91, though the universe in which the characters move is the same mixture of mortals, supergods and pesky sprits. Main character here is a young debt collector, Ning (voiced by Jan Lam), who is ditched by his g.f., Siu-lan (Lai Sui-yan), and sets off with his dog, Solid Gold, on a series of adventures. En route, he meets the beautiful Shine (Anita Yuen), a follower of Madame Trunk (Kelly Chen), and the pair try to board the Reincarnation Train to get Shine reborn.
The plot is stuffed with hosts of wild, buccaneering characters and a ceaseless flow of action that parallels many of Tsui’s fantasies like “Zu Warriors of the Magic Mountain.” The irony is that the action sequences are clearer and easier to follow, with none of the over-fast cutting of his regular pics. Other parallels include Tsui’s fascination with turn-of-the-century mechanical artifacts, here shown in the inventive Reincarnation Train, and his delight in mixing periods (cell phones are one notable example).
Top film names Anita Yuen, Charlie Young and Jordan Chan are among those supplying the voices in the Cantonese print, though it’s Ning’s cute dog (voiced by Tsui himself) that steals the show on a comic level. Animation is reasonably fluid, colorings are vivid, and backgrounds have a fragility that recalls Chinese landscapes, though in an accessible, unscholarly way. Running time could easily take a few trims without losing much. Original title is Shine’s name in Chinese.