The Phantom Lover

A sumptuously mounted, full-bore musical melodrama, Ronny Yu's "The Phantom Lover" is a sensory delight guaranteed to appeal to urio-seekers with a feel for pure cinema. Though best appreciated on the wide, wide screen, this Chinese reworking of "The Phantom of the Opera" would be useful pickup for specialist vid labels. Pic is the third Sino version of the tale, following two made in Shanghai - Maxu Weibang's way-out 1937 rendering (which spawned a 1941 sequel) and Yang Yanjin's straighter 1985 movie, both known as "Midnight Song," literal meaning of the Chinese title. Hong Kong director Yu has changed some of the surrounding plot and gone for melodrama in its literal meaning - a meld of song, music and drama that plays like a pure cinematic tone poem.

With:
Song Danping ...... Leslie Cheung Du Yunyan ...... Wu Chien-lien Wei Qing ...... Huang Lei Lan Die ...... Liu Lin

Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but

was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised to the son of a local big shot.

After this 40-minute flashback, story returns to the present as the scarred, wraith-like Song strikes up a secret relationship with one of the troupe, Wei Qing (Huang Lei), and coaches him in the score to his most popular musical,

“Romeo and Juliet.” Song’s plan is to get the troupe to restage the work, expose his enemies and reunite with Yunyan, who’s since gone batty after fleeing her

family.

Aside from the camp sight of diminutive Hong Kong actor-popster Cheung strutting around the stage in Elizabethan tights as Romeo, the movie’s main attraction is Eddie Ma’s eye-boggling design, from the huge auditorium (built at Beijing Film Studio) to sets like Song’s lair up in the flies, a Gothic folly of huge wheels, pendulous ropes and cobwebs. Yu, who proved his technical mastery with the 1993 swordplay extravaganza “The Bride With White Hair” (aka “Jiang-Hu: Between Love & Glory”), turns his camera loose with a dazzling array of cranes, swoops and widescreen tableaux that find a fitting echo in the catchy, romantic score by Chris Babida.

Performances by the mixed Hong Kong, Taiwanese (Wu) and mainland (Huang) cast are at the service of the direction. Pic actually plays better in its all-Mandarin version, rather than the mixed-dialect one (with dialogue in

Cantonese but songs in Mandarin) unspooled at the London festival. The movie’s sound mix was done in Vancouver.

The Phantom Lover

Hong Kong

Production: A Mandarin Films production. Produced by Michael Ng, Raymond Wong. Executive producers, Wong, Li Ning. Co-producer, Leslie Cheung. Directed by Ronny Yu. Screenplay, Roy Szeto, Raymond Wong, Yu.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Peter Pau; editor, David Wu; music, Chris Babida; production design, Eddie Ma; costume design, William Cheung, Yeung Sin-ling; sound, DTS Stereo. Reviewed at London Film Festival, Nov. 23, 1996. Running time: 99 MIN. (Cantonese and Mandarin soundtrack)

With: Song Danping ...... Leslie Cheung Du Yunyan ...... Wu Chien-lien Wei Qing ...... Huang Lei Lan Die ...... Liu LinWith: Bow Fong, Roy Szeto.

More Film

  • Durban Fest ‘Springs’ for Emerging Filmmakers

    Durban Fest ‘Springs’ for Emerging Filmmakers

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

  • South Africa's Jenna Bass on Race,

    South Africa's Jenna Bass Explores Race, Class and Gender in 'High Fantasy'

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

  • (L to R) Young Rosie (ALEXA

    'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,' 'The Equalizer 2' Eye Debuts Above Forecasts

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

  • Durban 2018 Panel on Sexual Harrasment

    For Black Women in South African Film Biz, Equality Still a Struggle

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

  • 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Teases Spider-Ham

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Teases Spider-Ham, Other Webspinners

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

  • Venom Comic-Con

    'Venom' Creators Promise 'Huge World,' Tease Spider-Man Fight

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

  • Bully

    Film News Roundup: Danny Trejo's Dark Comedy 'Bully' Scores Distribution

    Story opens in 1936 with a theatrical troupe arriving at a massive, dilapidated theater on the outskirts of Beijing. The old caretaker tells how the pile was once owned by popular actor-impresario Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) but was burned down by his enemies 10 years ago, following Song’s illicit affair with Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), promised […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content