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Demi-Haunted

Latest in a small wave of Hong Kong comedies centered on the human and spiritual worlds colliding, "Demi-Haunted" takes a while to get its gears in synch but develops into an affecting character piece during its second half. With no huge stars attached, pic was only a very modest performer on release in October -- and a B.O. setback for helmer Patrick Leung after his success last year with "La Brassiere" -- but is way more accessible than the big summer hit, "My Left Eye Sees Ghosts," starring singer Sammi Cheng. Asia-friendly events beckon.

Latest in a small wave of Hong Kong comedies centered on the human and spiritual worlds colliding, “Demi-Haunted” takes a while to get its gears in synch but develops into an affecting character piece during its second half. With no huge stars attached, pic was only a very modest performer on release in October — and a B.O. setback for helmer Patrick Leung after his success last year with “La Brassiere” — but is way more accessible than the big summer hit, “My Left Eye Sees Ghosts,” starring singer Sammi Cheng. Asia-friendly events beckon.

A young member of a Cantonese opera troupe, Buster (Eason Chan) starts to be haunted by Giselle (Joey Yung), a legendary male-role performer from the ’30s who accidentally died when singing a song for her real-life beau (Nicholas Tse, guesting). She nags Buster to take on her personality and restage her famous song, so she can gain peace; in exchange, she helps him date a gangster’s feisty daughter, Chloe (Katy Yeung).

With its gender-switching themes, Canto-troupe setting and time-travel/haunting story, pic sometimes recalls “Rouge” without the sensuous settings. In fact, it has a much larger reach than Stanley Kwan’s film, also embracing a subsidiary story of emotional loss, by the troupe’s manager (Christine Ng) and daughter (Yumiko Cheng), that contributes to the gently moving climax. The way in which all of the script’s various strands are gathered together is one of the film’s pleasant surprises, after an over-discursive first half that would benefit from trimming by about 10 minutes.

Chan, seemingly Hong Kong’s busiest actor, just keeps getting better as a comic-romantic lead, here playing the put-upon Buster with ease. The diminutive Yung is okay as the cross-dressing opera thrush, but Yeung and Cheng steal the younger distaff honors for sheer personality. Older cast, led by Anthony Wong as the troupe’s boastful lead singer, is impeccable. Chinese title roughly means “Mismatched Souls.”

Demi-Haunted

Hong Kong

  • Production: An Emperor Multimedia Group release and presentation. (International sales: EMG, Hong Kong.) Produced by Albert Yeung. Executive producer, Kam Yip. Directed by Patrick Leung. Screenplay, Chan Man-yau.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Anthony Pun; editor, Cheung Ka-fai; music, Tommy Wai; art director, Chow Sai-hung; costume designer, Eddy Mok; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Tu Duu-chih; Cantonese opera instructors, Jacky Man, Teresa Leung. Reviewed on videocassette, London, Dec. 14, 2002. Running time: 115 min.
  • With: <b>With</b>: Eason Chan, Joey Yung, Nicholas Tse, Yumiko Cheng, Jacky Man, Anthony Wong, Christine Ng, Katy Yeung, Lau Shun, Robert Lo, Lorry J.C., Stephanie Che, Arthur Wong, Poon Hang-seng.