Haunted Tales [碟仙] (1980)
Starring Ching Li, Ling Yun, Lin Chen-Chi, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Shum Lo, Liu Lai-Ling, Sa Sa, Lau Nga-Ying
Directed by Chor Yuen (The Ghost, Story #1) & Mou Tun-Fei (The Prize Winner, Story #2)
Expectations: The poster is great, so I have high hopes.
Haunted Tales is a two-film horror anthology from the Shaw Studio, but those expecting a common theme between the tales should seek such synchronicity elsewhere. The first story is a reserved, classically styled ghost story, and the second is a debaucherous, exploitative morality play that’s closer to something Kuei Chih-Hung would have made. But while the tales do not complement one another, they are both engaging and quite entertaining in their differing ways, so Haunted Tales comes out as a great Shaw Brothers take on the horror anthology.
My research on the film led me to this post on the wonderful and always informative Cool Ass Cinema website. I encourage you to read the post if you’re interested in this film, or just some behind-the-scenes ideas of how the Shaw studio was run, and while you’re there explore the site a bit. It’s full of great stuff! Anyway, the gist is that the first story (The Ghost) began life with Chor Yuen as Hellish Soul in 1975, but production shut down and a few years later Ho Meng-Hua was brought in to complete some re-shoots (which also resulted in an unfinished feature). The Prize Winner, Mou Tun-Fei’s short that closes the film, also began shooting as a feature. Instead of completing the features, they were salvaged and combined into Haunted Tales. That explains the differences in tone!
The Ghost is about a newlywed couple (Ching Li & Ling Yun) who move into their new house by the ocean, but the wife is plagued with strange visions that cause her great distress. She attempts to visit the neighbors in the afternoon, but finds the house empty and quiet… even the chickens outside are sleeping! This is her first inkling that something is not right, but it most definitely is not her last! I don’t want to go much deeper than that, but suffice it to say that The Ghost is full of intrigue, mystery and lots of ghostly shenanigans. Its twist is perhaps not as obscured as it could have been, but due to the wild and unexpected nature of Hong Kong ghost stories, this is hardly a criticism.
The Prize Winner is an entirely different beast. Some kids are hiding out in a trashed apartment doing normal kid stuff, like attempting to contact the supernatural world through what looks like a circular Chinese Ouija board. I’d never seen anything like this — or even considered its existence — and as a huge fan of the movie Witchboard, I was immediately enthralled and interested in what delights this board and the story around it might contain. The tenement building’s janitor, Ah Cheng (Chan Shen), confiscates the board and runs the kids off, and soon he discovers the board is inhabited by a fox spirit who is willing to give him the lottery numbers if he makes a promise. Well, the title kind of betrays what happens, but again, it’s about the hows and the whys. And this tale is full of stuff you’d never be able to predict, right up to its absolutely incredible, twisted ending.
The Ghost plays well at its hour-long length, but I can easily see this as a feature. I wouldn’t say that it feels like it’s cut down or missing something, just that there’s enough going on in the film’s world that you could easily spend another half hour there without issue. That being said, I like it at this length and I think I’d rather have it like this than as a somewhat watered-down feature. The Prize Winner, however, is a perfect half-hour anthology short. As a feature, this story would be far less effective (unless they considerably deepened the story or characters). It’s so enjoyable that I wish Mou Tun-Fei was given free rein to make a couple more 30-minute shorts to complete his own anthology feature. I also learned from the Cool Ass Cinema page I mentioned earlier, that Mou was a less-successful, New Wave contemporary of Kuei Chih-Hung. Just based on this one short, I am thoroughly excited to see more of his work.
If you like Hong Kong horror, this one is a no-brainer; if you don’t, I don’t know if this one will bring you over to the dark side. It’s good, but I don’t think it’s that good. Anyway, good luck on finding it at this point… it was only released to VCD in Hong Kong, but it was remastered by Celestial so I have hopes that it’ll hit digital platforms (or at least DVD) at some point.
Next week is the last week of Shaw Brothers Horror, so I’m closing it out with what I hope is a real humdinger: Kuei Chih-Hung’s 1982 film Curse of Evil! See ya then!