Return of the Dead (1979)

Return of the Dead [銷魂玉] (1979)

Starring Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Yueh Hua, Chan Wai-Ying, Si Wai, Yuen Sam, Cheng Miu, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Cheung Ching-Fung, Choh Seung-Wan, Tai Kwan-Tak, Chan Shen, Chun Wong, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Wai-Ling, Shum Lo, Fung Ming, Lui Tat, Wang Han-Chen

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s as good as The Ghost Story or better.


Li Han-Hsiang followed The Ghost Story with another horror anthology nine months later: Return of the Dead. It is a much more conventional anthology, with a framing story bringing together three stories which would otherwise have no connection. Return of the Dead is also not a sexploitation film (although it does brush up against the genre in a couple of scenes), so overall I imagine it is a much easier to digest film for traditional horror audiences. The only problem is that Return of the Dead just isn’t as good as it ought to be. The stories are all entertaining and engaging, but they lack a bit of oomph to really send them into a territory that inspires love. I liked the film, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that there’s not a lot to hang any sort of recommendation on.

The framing story is relatively light, showing the protagonists of the individual stories explaining how they came to reside in the insane asylum they all call home. The first story is likely to be familiar to horror fans, as it is an adaptation of the time-honored tale, The Monkey’s Paw. Here the paw is a necklace with a charm depicting the three wise monkeys (See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil). Ku Feng and Wang Lai play husband and wife, with their son played by Lau Luk-Wah. Lau works at a local factory, while his parents have a small, but successful fermented tofu business. Ku Feng’s character has adopted the name Wang Zhi-He to help sell his goods, as the real Wang Zhi-He was the man who discovered and popularized bottled, fermented tofu. If you know the story of The Monkey’s Paw, you’ll know what comes next. It is a simple, but effective moral tale, and Li Han-Hsiang adapts it well.

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The Ghost Story (1979)

The Ghost Story [鬼叫春] (1979)

Starring Yueh Hua, Woo Gam, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wong Ching-Ho, Kara Hui, Lam Yeung-Yeung, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lee Kwan, Ng Hong-Sang, Yeung Chi-Hing, Fung Ging-Man, Wang Han-Chen, Ku Wen-Chung, Tin Hoi-Fung

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: Curious, but not sure.


The Ghost Story is a sort of anthology film, but the way it’s told the second story is meant to represent the reincarnations of the characters from the first, and the leads are played by the same actors (Woo Gam & Yueh Hua). Some secondary actors reappear in similar roles, as well. But since there are two distinct segments and a framing story of a grandpa telling stories to a rapt audience, I suppose it’s as much of an anthology film as anything else. The stories here are adapted from Pu Songling’s ever-popular short story collection, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, first published in 1740. The bulk of the film is based on one of the most popular tales, The Painted Skin, while the first story is a bit harder to pin down.

There are 491 stories in the full version, but most English editions are whittled down to somewhere around 100 stories. The book I have has a story titled Making Animals that contains some elements present in the first segment of The Ghost Story, but other than that I was unable to identify the specific story being adapted. A six-volume, complete English translation was finished a few years ago by Sidney L. Sondergard, so perhaps one day I’ll figure it out. For now, though, we’ll have to be satisfied not knowing or assuming that Li wrote a new story around elements of Making Animals. Anyway, once he tells the kids to go to bed, our narrator begins a tale that occurred sometime during the reign of Empress Wu of the Tang dynasty. It is the story of Hua’s Inn, run by three sisters, and how a group of tired soldiers sought refuge there.

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The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung (1977)

The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung [乾隆下江南] (1977)

Starring Lau Wing, Wong Yu, Lee Kwan, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Wang Han-Chen, Yueh Hua, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chen Ping, Kam Ting-Hsun, Wang Sha, Aai Dung-Gwa, San Shu-Wa, Wong Ching-Ho, Chan Shen, Ng Hong-Sang

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: High. I really liked the first film.


The first film in this series, Emperor Chien Lung, introduced us to an emperor bored with his rigid, dependable life in the Imperial palace. He longed for adventure and the knowledge of how his subjects lived, so he disguised himself and embarked on a journey across his lands. Along the way, he helped those in need and stopped more than a few crimes perpetrated by officials in his name. It’s a nice setup for an episodic film, and the first film left me hungry for more adventures with Emperor Chien Lung. The sequel delivers (although the first film actually tells more adventurous tales), but it does so in many unexpected ways that build the character in different directions. The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung was the first sequel (of four) to Shaw’s highest grossing film of 1976, and I’m in for some real fun if the others are anywhere near as good as this one.

Taking over for director Wong Fung is one of Shaw’s most well-respected directors, Li Han-Hsiang. He directed all the sequels, and judging from his work on The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung it’s possible that he saw the first film as more of a test run for his series, and not an actual “first film” that he was making follow-ups to. The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung begins before Chien Lung is born, showing us how his father, Prince Yong (Yueh Hua), met his mother, Stable Maid Li Jia (Chen Ping), and eventually how Chien Lung became the favored grandson of the long-reigning Kangxi Emperor (Yeung Chi-Hing). The star of the first film, Lau Wing, doesn’t even appear until over 20 minutes into the film! Chien Lung’s sidekick, Zhou Ri-Qing (Wong Yu), fares even worse, only appearing in the final act of the film. To be honest, I can’t recall exactly how they met in the first film, but here we again see them meet for the first time. Things like this are what leads me to believe the Li wasn’t looking back on Wong’s film when making his.

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The Kingdom and the Beauty @ ShawBrothersUniverse.com!

Hey there, Emulsionites! My latest post for the official Shaw Brothers site went up yesterday! This time it’s a review of the 1959 Huangmei opera classic, The Kingdom and the Beauty, directed by Li Han-Hsiang! Check it out here and enjoy!

And if you’re looking to watch The Kingdom and the Beauty, your options are a bit limited at the moment. It was released on HK Region 3 DVD and HK Blu-ray, both of which are still available (as of this writing) via my favorite HK import retailer: DDDHouse.

 

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