Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Chinese Ghost Story | A Chinese Fairy Tale | 倩女幽魂 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

It's hard to keep a good story away but then again, it's also hard to tell a good story. A Chinese Ghost Story had already received a sequel treatment, a second sequel (which is essentially a remake), an animation and probably had a TV series or two. This is one story that most Asians know by heart and it's getting the remake treatment again.

This time round, the remake is helm by Ip Man director Wilson Yip with a new cast featuring the likes of Louis Koo (who been in almost all major recent Hong Kong movies), Liu Yifei (The Forbidden Kingdom), Yu Shaoqun (Kungfu Wing Chun), Kara Hui (At the End of Daybreak) and Louis Fan (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky).
There's a strange and unexpected twist in this rendition of A Chinese Ghost Story. Louis Koo who is obviously the lead actor in this movie had been cast as Yan Chixia (a supporting role in the original film) while China actor Yu Shaoqun would be playing Ning Caichen (the lead role in the original film). Does that means there a shift in love interest for Xiao Qian (the female lead role) or has Ning Caichen been demoted to a supporting role?

It turned out that this remake will be heading towards a love triangle between these three characters. That's something that have not been done for any of A Chinese Ghost Story franchise. Will this modification to the beloved story work? The odds are definitely stacked against Wilson Yip, Yu Shaoqun, Liu Yifei and Louis Koo right at the start. Can they spin something new out from the old tale and perhaps create a movie that could stand on par with the old one?

The Plot

This movie starts with Yan Chixia (Louis Koo), a demon slayer trainee who had been tasked to kill a fox spirit by his teacher. He was about to succeed in killing fox spirit but couldn't bring himself to do it. Later on,  Xiao Qian (Liu Yifei) the same fox spirit that were let off, ambushed Yan Chixia but instead of killing him, she became entranced with the sweets that Yan Chixia was carrying. That's how their unnatural relationship begun and things were rosy until it came to a stage that Yan Chixia was forced to either kill her or mind swipe/wide her so that she couldn't remember their relationship.

The movie then jumped forward to a sudden confrontation with the Tree Demon (Kara Hui). For some strange and unexplained reasons, Yan Chixia couldn't bring himself to destroy the Tree Demon. His hesitation caused the death of his fellow demon slayers and the left arm of his fellow demon slayer Thunder (Louis Fan). Even after losing their fellow disciples, the two demon slayers managed to captured and seal the Tree Demon up in a magical spell.

Years later, Ning Caichen, a technician sent by the courts, arrived in the village that been having droughts. He been tasked to solve their water problem and offered to scout out the nearby mountains for new water source. The villagers knew that the mountain has been cursed with evil spirits send a bunch of condemned prisoners to accompany this clueless technician.

While digging for water, they were hit by a freak storm and decided to take shelter at a nearby building. The building would turn out to be the infamous Orchid Temple where the Tree Demon resides (or being sealed in). They found a big fountain with water in it. While Ning Caichen was trying to figure out the water source for this fountain, the rest of the condemned prisoners were quickly seduced by scantily clothed nubile ladies.

Those ladies soon revealed themselves as the Tree Demon's henchmen and sucked the life out of these condemned prisoners. Meanwhile, Ning Caichen encountered Xiao Qian but resisted her attempts to arouse him. Finding that rare, she became interested in him. To sweeten the deals, Ning Caichen had sweets with him and that make him even more appealing to her.

But of course, when the spirits are trying to freed the Tree Demon with the life force of the condemned prisoners, Yan Chixia won't be too far away. Can love blossom between Ning Caichen and Xiao Qian when Yan Chixia hangs around like a jealous ex boyfriend. The clueless Ning Caichen was also planning to blast the fountain basement with explosive so that the villages could get back their water. What he didn't know would be that the Tree Demon is sealed at the bottom of the fountain.

The Perspective

The original A Chinese Ghost Story was a classic because they have a simple effective story and they have really good actors making their characters memorable. That two elements that this remake is sorely missing.

In order to give the audience something new and perhaps cater to the Twilight fans, they created a love triangle between Xiao Qian, Ning Caichen and Yan Chixia. The love triangle might have worked if there's more time to flesh out their characters and relationships. What we got here would be a super quick introduction arc to establish the unlikely romance between Xiao Qian and Yan Chixia. Then the movie went on to create the sparks between Xiao Qian and Ning Caichen while putting Yan Chixia on a back burner.

The handling was choppy and unbalanced that it was hard to feel the dilemma or conflicts that this love triangle set up was trying to achieve. It felt like a convoluted story that needs a better director / scriptwriter to tell.

Louis Koo, one of the most established actor in this lot, struggled Yan Chixia role. He had to balance between the sentimentalism of a forgotten love and the cynical demon slayer who is trying very hard not to care. There isn't much time or material in this movie for him to achieve both aspects. 

The two young China actors, Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei felt like a poor replacement. Their version of Ning Caichen and Xiao Qian felt like a couple of teenagers in love. There's a hollow ring to it and it's pretty uninspiring like the Twilight Belle and Edward. There's so many degree of Leslie Cheung's Ning Caichen and Yu Shaoqun could only portray it with the usual China style of naivety. Joey Wong's Xiao Qian was seductive, playful and a mix of innocence while Liu Yifei just felt like a teenager who can't seduce to save her own life.

The blossoming romance between Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei's characters was the bulk of the movie and yet it pale in contrast to the introductory and finale arc that depicts the romance between Louis Koo's Yan Chixia and Liu Yifei's Xiao Qian. That not to say that the romance between Yan Chixia and Xiao Qian were that convincing either but it helps to put into perspective how bad the chemistry was between Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei.
Strangely, the folks that really shine for this movie would be Kara Hui and Louis Fan. It seemed that they could really cut loose with their supporting character. Kara Hui's rendition Tree Demon was on par or even better than the original Tree Demon. Louis Fan's Thunder felt like the real Yan Chixia in this A Chinese Ghost Story mythology. 

Beside that, this new A Chinese Ghost story contains some really nice effects shots. Yan Chixia being stuck in an ocean of leaves and Thunder's floating tattoos were some of the memorable CGI moments of this movie. But then again, special effects don't really make a movie.

In closing, Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong and Wu Ma had left an indelible mark for their performance as Ning Caichen, Xiao Qian and Yan Chixia respectively. Personally, Yu Shaoqun, Liu Yifei and Louis Koo didn't bring much to this well loved characters. But without being so critical or liking the original movie so much, this remake could be a passable entertainment. It seemed that this movie is targeted to the younger generation who likes the Twilight type of love triangle and I got a feeling that they will like this one too. For me, I am listing this as a bad remake.

Beyond the movie
A Chinese Fairy Tale ???

While surfing around Wikipedia & AsianMediaWiki for more information on this movie, I was surprise to see that the A Chinese Ghost Story remake is actually named A Chinese Fairy Tale.  The Chinese title remained the same. It just that the Ghost was replaced by Fairy in the English title of this movie.

I am not sure which country will be having this movie as A Chinese Fairy Tale. I suspect that the change would be to cater to the China censors who are rather picky about showing supernatural, religious and spiritual stuff.

But then again, this movie is about fox spirit, tree demon and demon slayers. Although the talismans, Taoist priest and Monks are all missing in this remake, the subject matters are already of the supernatural stuff. It just didn't make sense.

The name change could be just some region way of distancing themselves from the classic or an attempt to attract customers to this movie without letting them know that this is a remake.

I got no idea. Is China still so stringent about supernatural elements in their movies? Their film industry are opening up rapidly and raking in all the big bucks. Are they still going to be so picky? Would be great if someone could let me know why is there a name change.

Nearer to Singapore

Apparently this movie is too much for Malaysia. Just came across a news that mention the Malaysia censor cut a sex scene between Liu Yi Fei and Louis Koo for their 18 Rated Theatrical release. It also mention that Singapore release was release with the scene intact. Frankly I don't remember that sex scene at all. Might have been too preoccupied with the thoughts of what went wrong with this movie to take notice.

anyway, the link for the article here
Sexy ghost too sexy for most?


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