Ghost Story (aka Gui jiao chun) Review
Guilty pleasure time! Ghost Story is a Shaw Brother's movie from Li Han Hsiang, director of finely made erotic period pictures like Dream of the Red Chamber and the far more coy The Enchanting Shadow. It joins an older man, and ex Taoist priest, in medieval times as he tells a ghost story of the Tang Dynasty and its latter day repeat through reincarnation some 1000 years later. After our narrator dismisses the children in his audience he gets stuck into a lusty tale of three female demons. These comely demons use their tavern and charms to bewitch men into acts of congress,and at the point of ecstasy the men are turned into bulls, the women then sell the bulls on to make their living. When General Wang Chung brings his tired and horny troops to their inn, he soon notices that his troops are dwindling and the bovine population is rising. General Wang turns the tables on the three twisted sisters and soon they are livestock instead. 1000 years on, one of the demons has been reincarnated and takes advantage of Wang's licentious reincarnation as an unfaithful scholar. Can Scholar Wang avoid the bad karma and save his family?
Ghost Story is very much a precursor to later films like Sex and Zen or A Chinese Ghost Story, which Hsiang's earlier The Enchanting Shadow resembles closely. Told with a nice balance of titillation, horror and artfulness the film works a little like a softcore portmanteau movie - imagine AMICUS with lots of vigorous fondling. The technical standards are high and the attempts at drama sincere - there is some beautiful cinematography and some eye catchingly nasty special effects and this makes the overall package both competent and fun. The sexy demons are gorgeous strumpets and the lustful men think with the wrong organ at all times - sexy women and dumb men is the usual basis for erotica and this is respected here.
The characters contained within are the usual mixture of the horny and the idiotic and the cast are sound in their performances. Still, this is light stuff with an eye for the salacious grapple and the odd bonkers shock. When the demons are set upon by lusty soldiers the humping is copied in the mise en scene by the grinding of a mill with pounding rhythmic effects until the infantry suddenly find they have become livestock. The splicing of the moment of orgasm with the sudden appearance of Freddie the Friesian has a certain jocular charm which plays as knowing nonsense rather than cack handed transition. This spirit, this joy of sex makes Ghost Story a rather amiable companion to spend 100 minutes with.
Well crafted, entertaining and bawdy, this is a fine sex and horror combo. Ghost Story is certainly not dramatic gold but it is sexy, funny and eccentric.
IVL's package is presented exactly as the rest of their Shaw Brother re-issues with a single layer disc and a transfer that is at the correct aspect ratio but is not properly converted from PAL to NTSC. This means the image suffers from the usual conversion problems of motion shake, combing and a dullness to the overall look. The colours are reasonably true and bright, the image is sharp and the contrast is acceptable. The conversion effects are more easily seen in still shots but whilst the disc plays this is a fair transfer. The audio has mild background noise and pops but it is clear strong mono with middling English subtitles which will allow you to follow the action if not appreciate some of the subtlety of the drama(not that there's much subtlety here!).
The special features include subtitled trailers for other IVL releases such as Illicit Desire, Love Swindler, Legends of Lust, The Enchanting Shadow and this film. The extras also include the usual poster art, very short production notes and biographies of the main cast, which are helpfully available in English.
Ghost Story is entertaining schlock which titillates and enthrals at times. The overall film is a little silly but never pompous and IVL have presented the movie with basic extras and their usual transfer.