A mediocre remake of the famous, same-named 1987 Hong Kong action-fantasy, “A Chinese Ghost Story” sports snazzy effects and some decent fight sequences, but that’s about it. This drab-looking reboot by helmer Wilson Yip (“S.P.L.”) lacks engaging characters and skews the original film’s delightful romance between a female ghost and a shy young scholar into an awkward love triangle. Released April 19 in China, pic sparked a smashing 2 million admissions in its first week, followed by a steep drop-off. Tepid biz in Oz and New Zealand since May 13 indicates a modest future in Western markets.
Source material not acknowledged in credits is “Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio,” a collection of short works by 17th-century author Pu Songling that’s inspired adaptations on big- and smallscreens since the 1960 Shaw Brothers feature “The Enchanting Shadow.” A certified classic, the 1987 version by helmer Ching Siu-tung and producer Tsui Hark launched a hit trilogy that introduced many Western auds to Chinese fantasy cinema.
Action here kicks off with demon hunter Yin Chek Ha (Louis Koo) falling in love with Siu Sin (Liu Yifei, “The Forbidden Kingdom”), a beautiful fox spirit enslaved to Lou Lou (Wai Ying-hung), a fearsome tree demon whose swirling mass of hair is her deadliest weapon.
Meanwhile, nerdy young government official Ning Choi-san (Yu Shaoqun, “Forever Enthralled”) arrives in Black Mountain Village, a drought-stricken outpost located close to Lou Lou’s lair. Ordered to find a new water source for the community, Ning enters the haunted forest with village idiot Ti Nga (Li Ching) and a squad of convicted murderers. The last man standing after Lou Lou’s foxy female assistants use deadly kisses to drain the killers’ life energy, Ning meets Siu Sin and starts a romance that’s interrupted by jealous Yin, who’s been hovering in the woods all this time.
Still, the love triangle produces little excitement. Failing to deliver the innocence required of Ning, Yu’s one-note perf renders him as a goofball whose persistent offerings of sweets to Siu Sin are hardly the stuff of an appealing romantic lead. Liu lacks spark as the sad ghost, and Koo has little to do other than look stern and handsome. Best perfs are delivered by veteran Wai as the cackling mother beast, and Fan Sui Wong as Suet Fung Li, a one-armed demon slayer whose late arrival brings much-needed pep to the final furlongs.
With virtually every shot a Dutch angle and its color-drained imagery edited at machine gun pace, pic’s visuals may appeal to some younger auds weaned on computer games but will turn off many viewers who associate Chinese fantasy with rich hues and graceful assemblage. The rest of the tech work is fine.
Pic is dedicated to the memory of Leslie Cheng, the late star of the original “A Chinese Ghost Story” and its 1990 sequel.