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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Chinese Ghost Story’ Tilts Toward Camp

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The whimsical and lively “A Chinese Ghost Story III” (at the Sing Lee, 649 N. Spring St., Chinatown, and the State, 770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena) finds the dreaded Tree Demon awakening from a century’s sleep and ready to stir up big trouble for anyone who enters the haunted Orchid Temple.

This latest chapter has much of the charm and humor of the first two films in the series, but its mix of incessant chatter and martial arts derring-do amid spectacular special effects tends to become weary. Still, it’s one of the few films in any language you might actually recommend to the entire family, provided the youngsters are old enough to read subtitles--or to understand Cantonese.

Happening upon the Orchid Temple, which might well be taken as a pre-revolutionary Shanghai bordello rather than a holy place, are an elderly monk (Lau Shun) and his young acolyte Fong (Tony Leung) and later a rugged wayfarer named Yin (Jacky Cheung).

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Inside, the Tree Demon has taken the form of an evil-looking High Priestess (male actor Lau Siu Ming in drag). The High Priestess, who can whip out her energy-draining, snake-like tongue at least 30 feet, is surrounded by a contingent of female retainers (with shaved heads) plus the beautiful sister ghosts, the sweet Lotus (Wang Hsu Hsien) and the wicked Butterfly (Nina Li), whose fingernails can turn to deadly claws at whim.

Written by the esteemed martial arts specialist Tsui Hark with Roy Szeto and directed by Ching Siu Ting, “A Chinese Ghost Story III” is a classic fable of good and evil shot through with magic and is also a poignant doomed love story between the monk, pledged to celibacy, and the gorgeous Lotus, condemned to eternal ghostliness.

However, since the film is an all-out archaic fantasy, it’s for the best that it has been played more for camp than for sentiment. Ironically, those who’ve not seen the earlier films might well enjoy “A Chinese Ghost Story III” (Times-rated Family) better than those who have, for it’s too similar to its predecessors for its own good.

‘A Chinese Ghost Story III’

Wang Hsu Hsien: Lotus

Tony Leung: Fong

Jacky Cheung: Yin

Nina Li: Butterfly

Lau Siu Ming: Priestess/Tree Devil

Lau Shun: Old Priest

A Film Workshop Ltd. presentation. Producer Tsui Hark. Director Ching Siu Tung. Screenplay by Hark, Roy Szeto. Tom Lau. Costumes Chung Su Ping. Music Romeo Diaz, James Wong. Martial arts directors Ching Siu Tung, Ma Yuk Sing, Yuen Bun, Cheung Yiu Sing. In Cantonese, with Chinese and English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

Times-rated Family (suitable for all ages).


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