The Enchanting Shadow [倩女幽魂] (1960)
Starring Chao Lei, Betty Loh Tih, Tong Yeuk-Ching, Yang Chi-Ching, Su Hsiang, Lee Kwan, Li Kuo-Hua, Lok Kei, Hao Li-Jen, Wong Yuet-Ting
Directed by Li Han-Hsiang
Expectations: I have high hopes.
The Enchanting Shadow is one of the true classics in Hong Kong horror, elevating the genre and inspiring filmmakers for years to come. It competed in the 1960 Cannes Film Festival — Fellini’s La Dolce Vita won that year — and it was submitted as Hong Kong’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the 33rd Academy Awards — it was not nominated and Bergman’s The Virgin Spring ultimately won. Li Han-Hsiang was a well-established director at this point in his career; the previous year his film The Kingdom and the Beauty was an award-winning success that remains one of the best Huangmei operas to be produced by the Shaw Studio. From what I could tell from HKMDB, The Enchanting Shadow was his first foray into the horror genre, and while it isn’t exactly what American audiences would recognize as a horror film, it is most certainly typical of the genre in Hong Kong.
The Enchanting Shadow is based on the story Nie Xiaoqian from Pu Songling’s classic 18th Century collection, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. The same story — along with The Enchanting Shadow itself — served as the basis for the ’80s classic A Chinese Ghost Story. Like many of the stories in Pu’s collection, it is a tale of a scholar who gets involved with a ghost. In this particular case, Ning Caichen (Chao Lei) is a tax collector who needs a place to stay. All the inns are full, but he hears of Jinhua Temple, 10 miles north of town, and decides to stay there. He is warned that the temple is haunted, but he ignores this and stays there anyway. There he meets Yan Chixia (Yang Chi-Ching), a Taoist swordsman staying there, who lends some credence to the rumors of spirits haunting the temple.