A Chinese Ghost Story: The Tsui Hark Animation
Based on a series of live-action Hong Kong movies by Tsui Hark (A Better Tomorrow, Once Upon a Time in China), A Chinese Ghost Story is about a young, not-so-smart tax collector/scholar named Ning. Wandering through China, depressed over the loss of the girl of his dreams, he meets an ethereal beauty and falls for her. So what if she's a ghost? Well, if the powers that be have any say about it, Ning will never be able to be with the one he has grown enamored of. But through undead beasties, mad exorcists, chi blasts, and spectral trains, this tax collector isn't about to give up on his one last chance for love.
A Chinese Ghost Story takes a lot to get used to. It probably would have helped if I'd remembered to view some of Tsui Hark's other works directly before this, but that just doesn't happen at the anime room of a convention (where I initially screened this film). As is, I should mention that Tsui Hark's direction has been called "perpetual motion". Which means it gives you absolutely no time to absorb the scene you just left, before rushing into the next scene, and the next, and the next.
The result is an incredibly strange, breathless, nonstop action fantasy, which leaves you gasping for air and wondering exactly what it was all about anyway. On the surface is supposed to be the love story of Ning (a total moron) and his ghostly love (deliciously jaded, but very cute). What starts muddling the story is the addition of the two factions of warring exorcists (all voiced in the dub like they're just visiting from Monkey Magic), who are not particularly intelligent, and mostly physical in their comedy. After a while, they just get irritating.
It's telling that my favorite character in this movie was the dog.
And then there are the bizarre visuals. At first you're treated to gorgeous, if cartoony, views of China as it was before the days of European intervention. And then, there's the ghost town, which looks like the circus that must've stopped by Soul Hunter on the way here. (Okay?) Then at one point, the character designs regress to Precious Moments levels. Yikes! The addition of a sky train (wait, trains hadn't been invented yet, right?) was also a strange anachronism that smacked of Disney.
But this is hardly Disney. The undead here are loaded with blood and guts and barbecue sauce in spades, and Ning looks mighty tasty to them. But even they failed to be interesting, so much as annoying and at least a bit confusing. (What was with all the faux accents anyway?) At least the English dubbing was better than a typical Hong Kong film, but having been done by Viz, you have the distinct feeling we've been to China before with these voices.
By the time the movie was over, my brain seriously needed a rest. I'm still not sure whether I really enjoyed it or not, and the ending wasn't nearly as satisfying as it probably should have been. Perhaps I come from the wrong background to appreciate the storytelling style presented in this film, but I felt like an anime Goldilocks. A Chinese Ghost Story was too fast, Tale of Genji too slow. Even Elf Princess Rane gave us some time to laugh at the gags, you know - and the odd thing is that for all the speed of this film, I don't particularly remember the action in it!
Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of this show. Though it does have a certain appeal, A Chinese Ghost Story is less for diehard anime fans than for true Hong Kong fans. There is a huge difference in the style of storytelling between these two schools of directing, and, well, Stephen Chow simply does the "animated perpetual motion" thing better in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Maybe I should look forward to a Stephen Chow animation ...
Still, if you are a fan of the over-the-top, in-your-face style of Tsui Hark, feel free to enjoy this film.
I admit it's not my cup of tea, but I would have liked it more if it made any sort of sense. Tsui Hark fans should probably add two stars. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Despite the creepy-crawly undead and the amount of blood in this series, there's very little real violence, though younger children will be scared by some of the ghosts, especially the villain. But the horror tag is only due to the inclusion of undead rather than actual suspense or scariness. The movie rating given by Pioneer might be a tad low, as I'd actually recommend it to six-year-olds and above. As always, though, the parent is the final say.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
A Chinese Ghost Story: The Tsui Hark Animation © 1997 Film Workshop
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