(A.k.a. GUI WU LI REN [original title])
The film opens with bookworm Master Lang's (Yang Li Hau - yes, it's a lady playing a male character) studying being interrupted one afternoon by the arrival of Master Shi and his debt-collector thugs. Flanked by Lang's uncle, they're there to repossess the Lang family home, on account of the debt their late father left behind. The uncle stands to inherit the house if Lang moves out.
Appealing to Shi's better nature proves fruitless, and so Lang reluctantly leaves his home. He plans to move into the Xiaolian Residence - believed by locals to be a haunted house. Naturally, Lang arrives at said abode in the dead of night, armed with only a lantern. Strange noises, some ghoulish figures glimpsed at in the distance and an eerie score aside, he eventually settles in.
"Ghosts are scared of scholars" Lang reasons to himself as he retires to the bedroom, the thunder and lightning raging outside.
Disturbed by more noises during the night, Lang determines to search the house by candlelight. It's here that he discovers he's not alone: pretty Ruyu (Chang Mei Yao) has also decided to use the house as shelter for her and her mother, who were ambushed by robbers while fleeing a "disaster". An instant attraction is felt between Lang and Ruyu.
Ruyu's mother dies that night and is buried on the homestead's grounds the following morning. Lang offers his condolences and - inevitably - a bond begins to form between he and Ruyu and we see a romance steadily blossom. In the meantime, however, Lang's uncle overhears villagers gossiping about how his nephew is primed to appeal against the repossession of the family home. This prompts him to visit the haunted house that evening with murder in mind; thankfully Ruyu is quick-witted enough to dress up as a ghost and scare the piss out of him.
Back in the village, the uncle shares the story of what happened and word soon gets around that Lang is living with "a female ghost". Before long, a mob is herded up to go to the haunted house and sort out this issue. But of course, the simple truth is that Lang and Ruyu are in love.
Well, if only love stories in these films were that simple. See, Ruyu is ailing and Lang's uncle isn't going to let his nephew live in peace ...
Continuing 88 Films' HD upgrading of key Shaw Brothers titles, director Chou Hsu Chiang's THE ENCHANTING GHOST is an early entry in terms of the production house's foray into horror. Released in 1970, the film flirts with haunted house tropes without ever becoming a fully-fledged genre flick until its final act - where you can expect a healthy serving of melodramatic music and cheesy special effects.
The build-up to that point is a more austere affair; the pace is measured while at times the combination of luscious colours and pretty production design lend events a rather painterly feel.
A game cast approach the fast-moving screenplay with spirit, light humour peppering the drama throughout. Yang is a pretty and feminine lead, apparently renowned as an opera actress at the time, and yet she quickly establishes herself as the resolute male protagonist. The script takes passing swipes at a changing China of the time, with asides such as "nowadays the ruthless are in charge" and "money talks" seeming flippant on the surface. The satire continues, but never to the detriment of the atmospheric action.
I enjoyed THE ENCHANTING GHOST. It doesn't subscribe to excess or even spectacle for the large part, but it's populated by agreeable characters and tells an involving story in an engaging manner. It's very stylishly rendered too.
THE ENCHANTING GHOST comes to UK blu-ray thanks to 88 Films. Presented as a generously-sized MPEG4-AVC file on a region B encoded disc, the film is fully uncut (85 minutes and 41 seconds) and correctly framed at 2.35:1. The 16x9 transfer benefits from full 1080p HD resolution and is struck from an extremely clean print. Images are sharp and vibrant, colours are bold and true. A nice filmic texture is maintained, with a keen sense of depth and warmth to events throughout.
Mandarin audio is proffered in a dependable uncompressed stereo mix which balances dialogue, sound effects and music to stirring effect. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection menu.
Our sole bonus feature is an 8-page colour booklet with liner notes from Lingge Dong, "a proud student of Hong Kong cinema". Dong's thoughts offer an interesting insight into the film in terms of Chinese folklore and observations on sexual mores, as well as drawing comparisons to the novel on which it is based.
This release also comes attractively packaged with double-sided cover art and an additional outer slipcase.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|