Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ghost Story (1979)

The Ghost Story (1979)

October 27th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Few directors have had careers as unusual or industry shaping as Li Han Hsiang. He crated popular movements, built national cinemas from the ground up, introduced more than a few new sub-genre and completely reshaped his career no less than four times. Several of his films have been shown in this series before, mostly his Huangmei or Yellow Plum opera films such as The Lover Etern (1963), arguably the most popular film ever released in Taiwan in terms of mass attendance. By the 1970’s he had already become the king of Hong Kong commercial directors, relocated to Taiwan and been run out on imaginary charges of communist sympathies. Back in Hong Kong he would invent another new sub-genre, one that would produce films that would regularly outperform the films of Bruce Lee. This new type was an episodic film, typically operating under an overall theme, if an abstract one. It would be episodic, mix a range of genre including comedy, theater, drama, period film, comedy of manners, exploitation and sexploitation and musical. At their hart, they were about human nature, and the concept of cheating.

The Ghost Story is a good example of this new type. It was one of several dealing lightly with horror elements, although in this case it would be more accurate to say that he uses themes found in traditional Chinese fantasy to satirize the present. In it, a Qing era storyteller takes a group of youngsters on several trips into the paranormal through a variety of eras and locations. One of the films obvious highlights is the actress Hu Chin. She, along with a small group of other actresses, formed the core cast of these films. A gifted comic actress, she followed Li from Taiwan back to Hong Kong. Her most typical role was that of a sadistic madam of a bordello, or some other predatory character. Destroying both men and women with an emotional delight that words do not adequately describe. This would be her last film with the Li before he would make the transition to China, ready to start a new phase in his career. It is a fitting sendoff, with her playing several characters as well as stealing the punch line of the film as it were.

Hong Kong, Director Li Han Hsiang, Cast Chan Shen, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Hu Chin and Lee Kwan, 102 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles

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