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Now while I don’t consider myself in any way an expert, or even a die hard fan, I do enjoy the odd slice of Asian cinema. Having previously owned a number of Hong Kong Legends discs, most notably Mr. Vampire, Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain and the Bruce Lee films, I guess that makes me as good a bet as anyone to tackle one of the distributor’s latest releases, Ching Siu-tung’s A Chinese Ghost Story.

Chinese Ghost Story, A

Film
The late Leslie Cheung stars as Ling Choi-san, a humble tax collector who’s ledger is completely ruined by a torrential downpour on his way to his first assignment. With no way to collect the taxes owed, and no money to pay for shelter, he seeks refuge in the foreboding Lan Yeuk Temple. It is here that Ling meets the mysterious and beautiful Nip Siu-sihn (Joey Wong), with whom he instantly falls in love.

Unknown to Ling the mysterious woman is actually a ghost, one who is forced to act as bait to lure unsuspecting men into the clutches of her master, an evil soul-devouring tree demon with an unfeasibly long tongue! The revelation doesn’t break Ling’s spirit, and together with a slightly crazy Taoist monk named Yin Chik-ha (Wu Ma), he heads off into the underworld to rescue his beloved from the Dark Lord of Black Mountain.

Although primarily a love story, there are plenty of entertaining, not to mention energetic, moments involving a great deal of swordplay, wire-work and Evil Dead inspired special effects. The film is well acted, with Leslie Cheung in particularly good form in his role, and you just have to see Wu Ma’s turn as a rapping Taoist swordsman to believe it!

Chinese Ghost Story, A

Video
A Chinese Ghost Story is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 (slightly cropped from the original 1.85:1 ratio), and is yet another great restoration job by the folks at Hong Kong Legends. While the quality of the video is clearly inferior to recent major releases, I feel it is important to take into consideration the origin of the source material.

It’s true that the image can be a little soft in places, with more than its fair share of grain, but it’s also a surprisingly bright, detailed affair at times. Black levels remain consistent throughout, which is good news for a film set predominantly at night, and shadow detail is actually very good. The palette is a little muted, but it seems no worse than any other Asian film of this era (in my less than considerable experience that is) and didn’t adversely affect my enjoyment of the film. Certainly the aforementioned Mr. Vampire ‘suffered’ from the same problem. All in all this is a nice transfer.

Chinese Ghost Story, A

Audio
The disc contains both a Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 track and an English 5.1 dub. I’m not a big fan of dubs, as they are usually so bad they’re terrible, so I’ll concentrate on the original language track.

Dialogue is perfectly clear throughout, even if it does suffer from that slightly ‘fake’ sound that seems to plague a lot of Asian film. By this I mean that the majority of the dialogue in the film sounds as though it’s being badly looped on the fly. Once again I’m sure this is simply a by-product of the comparatively low budget origins of the film.

Aside from the dialogue things are pretty much as you’d expect. The mix is heavily biased towards the front of the soundstage, where every exaggerated sound effect rings loud and clear. There is little in the way of surround action for the first hour or so (save for the odd musical cue and occasional clap of thunder), but things do pick up towards the end. Even the bass comes to life during the climactic battles with the Old Dame and the Lord of Black Mountain.

Chinese Ghost Story, A

Extras
First and foremost we have the obligatory audio commentary from Bey Logan. Logan possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of Hong Kong cinema, and is easily one of the most interesting and informative speakers I’ve ever heard on a commentary track. There’s scarcely a pause for breath as he offers up facts and anecdotes about every facet of production. This is excellent stuff.

Next up we have some fairly lengthy interviews. Master of Illusion is a twenty four minute English language piece with Tsui Hark, in which he discusses his reasons for making the film, while The Warrior focuses on Wu Ma and his acting career (which spans more than forty years).

Written by Bey Logan, A Tribute to Leslie Cheung is spread over a number of static pages and focuses on the late star’s career. Cheung committed suicide in 2003, although this piece doesn’t probe the reasons for his suicide in any deep or meaningful way.
 
The final sections on the disc are the Trailer Gallery and the Trailer Archive, which contain trailers for the main feature and promos for a number of other Hong Kong Legends and Premiere Asia titles.
 
Chinese Ghost Story, A

Overall
On the whole I enjoyed A Chinese Ghost Story, although not as much as Mr Vampire (which remains my favourite Hong Kong Legends release). The mix of swords, sorcery, comedy and romance is entertaining enough, but I felt that the film could have benefited from a slightly longer running time to enable further character development. As is usual for HKL titles, the disc features solid audio-visual presentation and a decent smattering of extras, most notably the outstanding Logan commentary. Fans of the film or the genre in general will be delighted with this one, while those of you who are still unsure about Asian cinema should find this a good place to start.


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