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A Chinese Ghost Story Review

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Ning Tsai-Shen, a humble tax collector, is forced to spend the night in the notoriously haunted Lan Ro Temple. There, he incurs the wrath of ghost-busting Taoist swordsman Yen Che-Hsia and falls in love with the mysterious and lovely ghost girl Nieh Hsiao-Tsing.

★★★★

The first Chinese horror film to get much of a release in the West, though it’s a summation of its genre rather than a truly innovative picture. A simple story of a decent young man in love with a ghost gets more complicated when it turns out that Hsiao-Tsing is bound in fealty to a 100-year-old hermaphrodite tree spirit with a deadly mile-long tongue, and is forced to entrap passing men so the killer tree can suck them of their yang elements (turning them into withered zombies who lurk in the basement). The evil tree has promised Hsiao-Tsing in marriage to a particularly unpleasant demon, Lord Black, and that Tsai-Shen has to go to Hell to rescue her.

Chinese ghosts leap around, bouncing off walls and trees like pinballs, and are possessed of ridiculous but deadly appendages like the fearsome tongue featured here or the cloud of long-haired, voraciously gnawing severed heads Lord Black unleashes against our hero. Director Ching Siu-Tung also delivers touching romance, spotlighting the winsome charm and very sexy ankles of Wong Tsu Hsien, gorgeous imagery as twenty-foot veils flutter in supernatural winds while ghosts flit hither and yon, some farcical comedy involving cowardly humans, more-or-less useless sub-titles on the export version (for instance, 'she's in danger' is translated as 'she's dangerous') and even a handful of songs.

It isn’t quite as completely demented as Mr Vampire, but it is truly strange. The film inspired several sequels, including an animated version, and many, many imitations.

Blending every genre under the sun into a film that feels like a permanent sugar rush, this action horror classic was perfecting wire-fu long before Western audiences knew what it was. Not every Hong Kong movie is like this; that's a shame.