#470: A Chinese Ghost Story III

Madcap monster hunting in this trilogy finisher to a Hong Kong comedy-horror classic

Initial release: 1991
Director: Ching Siu-tung

Films like the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy can be a little difficult to review, I think. So much happens in such little time, all of it completely off-the-wall, that it’s overwhelming, and while you can boil down the plot to a few sentences, that does nothing to convey just how insane these movies are.

A Chinese Ghost Story I and II were pretty bonkers, and the third and final movie in the original trilogy (there’s been an animated remake and a live action remake in the years since) is no different. The third film can be considered a retread of sorts of the first film, even opening with a few clips from the original to get viewers up to speed; we then jump ahead a hundred years. A pair of monks, one older and more experienced, the other younger and kind of bumbling, are traveling to the Imperial City (I think) with a golden statue of Buddha. Too poor to get an inn room, they decide to stop at the nearest temple, which turns out to be the same one from the first film, still abandoned, and — importantly — still haunted. The seal that kept the evil tree demon that was the first film’s villain has worn off, and the demon and its captive ghosts run amok.

As with the previous two films, stuff just kinda happens, the third movie especially just giving up all pretense of coherence: there’s ghostly seduction (Joey Wong returns as a completely different ghost this time), a mercenary with his own collection of spells (played by Jackie Cheung in a loose redo of his role in the second film) and Tony Leung bumbles about in the lead role as the hapless monk Fong.

All that being said, the third film is easily the weakest of the trilogy. A big part of that is the lack of the late great Leslie Cheung, whose role as Ning in the first two films was a big part of the comedy, as he was thoroughly unprepared for anything that happened to him and he more or less stumbled his way to victory. The lack of Wu Ma is also noticeable, as there was a lot of humor in the contrast of his gruff-serious-business-Taoist character and the bonkers stuff said character got up to (like machine-gunning spells at his enemies.)

Nevertheless, the third film does manage to stand on its own as a decent film in its own right, essentially doing its own thing despite being a retread; the cast for this film, as in the previous two, all give stellar performances, which is important in a film like this, because comedy is hard, even if that comedy is Jackie Cheung yelling “SEDUCE ME, I’M EASY!”

Taken as a whole, the trilogy is one of those important franchises that would dictate the tone of similar films in Hong Kong over the next decade: quirky characters and acting, with jokes coming at you rapid fire, all of it mixed up with fantasy and horror elements, all set to manic cinematography and editing. Tsui Hark is a maniac, and Asian cinema is all the better for his presence.

-june❤

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