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Review: Restless ‘Phantom of the Theatre’ collapses under its own weight

Ruby Lin in "Phantom of the Theatre."
( Well Go Usa Entertainment)

The Shanghai-set 1930s ghost saga “Phantom of the Theatre” is, like many haunted tales, rife with secrets to be unearthed. But this visually restless and ultimately ludicrous Chinese horror film from director Yip Wai Man (a.k.a. Raymond Yip) is unlikely to either shorten your breath or curl your toes.

It stars Tony Yang as young, aspiring filmmaker Wei Bang, determined to make his cinematic calling card with a ghost story filmed in an opulent, abandoned playhouse that’s been shuttered since a mysterious fire 13 years prior trapped and killed a family of acrobats who had performed for an autocratic warlord (Simon Yam). While vengeful spirits disrupt production by causing an assortment of victims to internally combust, Wei Bang’s leading lady, Si Fan (Taiwanese actress Ruby Lin), starts a flirtation with him that carries repercussions when the tragic truth behind the theater’s dark history is revealed.

There’s plenty to relish in the set-up to writer Manfred Wong’s old-fashioned spooky melodrama — think of the mileage that phantom at that opera has gotten — but director Yip’s go-to mode is speed over mood, color-chaotic spectacle over careful atmosphere and predictable noise over genuine creeps. Eventually, even the story sinks under the weight of its forced grandiosity and literal-mindedness.

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“Phantom of the Theatre”

In Mandarin with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Not rated

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Playing: In limited release


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