A Chinese Ghost Story II – The Story Continues

Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Fantasy/ Action/ Romance/ Martial Arts/ Ghost/ Comedy
Director: Tony Ching Siu-Tung
Year: 1990

Rating: ★★★½☆


A Chinese Ghost Story II may lack the sublime moments of the first film (Wu Ma’s impromptu song and dance, Leslie Cheung hiding in the bathtub with Joey Wang), but it doesn’t have a lousy first act either.

A Chinese Ghost Story II picks up right where the first movie stopped, quickly rehashing the plot for those viewers who missed the first film.

After burying Lip Siu Sin’s funeral urn at her grave site, tax collector/scholar Ning Choi San (Leslie Cheung) returns to his village, only to find it much changed. There’s dead bodies on the ground, for one thing.

The first act of A Chinese Ghost Story II is much like the first act of the first movie. Ning Choi San keeps falling out of one frying pan and into the fire. He has to deal with shady innkeepers and bounty hunters, among other hazards. But this time around, the storytelling is sharp and clear.

Then we get to the main tale. Fu Ching Fung (Joey Wang) and Fu Yuet Chi (Michelle Reis), along with a retinue of swordsmen, are trying to save their father, Lord Fu Tin Chau (Lau Siu-Ming), who has been arrested and is being brought to the palace by Swordsman Hu (Waise Lee). These folks mistake Ning Choi San for a prominent philosopher and he becomes their defacto leader. Autumn (Jacky Cheung), a sorceror, comes along for the ride after a misunderstanding involving his horse, which he thinks Ning Choi San stole.

It turns out that the Fu’s real enemy isn’t Swordsman Hu, but the Imperial High Priest (Lau Shun), who has corrupted the government.

Everything eventually gets resolved in a blowout action spectacle.

In general, Tony Ching Siu-Tung direction is more consistent this time around. His storytelling is always clear, and the pace is pretty much nonstop. The cinematography by Arthur Wong is lovely, a model for this sort of fantasy flick. The costumes by Hoh Wai-Ying are dazzling.

And what a killer cast! Joey Wong is her usual mischievous self and she must have been hitting the gym back then because her chipmonk cheeks and incipient double chin are nowhere to be found. Michelle Reis is just adorable. Leslie Cheung manages a brilliant comic performance all the way through this time. Waise Lee gets laughs by being completely humorless. Jacky Cheung and Wu Ma, who shows up for the finale, are hilarious as the two battling monks. Lau Shun is appropriate creepy as the High Priest.

So, why am I not giving A Chinese Ghost Story II a Trash Cinema Essential rating?

Well, as I said, there are no truly sublime moments. Screenwriters Edward Leung, Lam Kee-To, and Lau Daai-Muk and director Tony Ching Siu-Tung try to recreate the old magic in scenes which are designed to recall the first movie, but these moments come off as somewhat forced.

The second problem (for those who don’t appreciate camp, anyway) is that the monsters and creatures are roughly of the same sophistication as a 1950’s science fiction film from the United States. In other words, rubber and paper mache models that wouldn’t fool a child.

I tried not to hold this against the filmmakers, knowing how low the budget they had to work with was, but it was difficult at times.

Thankfully, director Tony Ching Siu-Tung and producer Tsui Hark make up for their low budget with boundless creativity and energy.

The apocalyptic ending, which utilizes small scale models and a laughable paper mache giant centipede is a case in point. The filmmakers kind of beat you into submission with their enthusiasm and you end up going along with the absurdity of the whole exercise.

I found A Chinese Ghost Story II exhilarating, but the viewer’s enjoyment will depend on their tolerance for cinematic cheese.

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