The Enchanting Ghost (1970)

The Enchanting Ghost [鬼屋麗人] (1970)

Starring Chang Mei-Yao, Yang Li-Hua, Lui Ming, Lam Ban, Lee Hung, Julie Lee Chi-Lun, Sha Lee-Man, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Tai Leung, Ko Hsiao-Pao, Ng Ho

Directed by Chou Hsu-Chiang

Expectations: Excited, I liked Chou’s The Bride from Hell.


Like last week’s film, The Ghost Story, The Enchanting Ghost falls into the category of Hong Kong horror with only minor elements of what usually defines a horror film. The Enchanting Ghost was also based on a story from Pu Songling’s 18th century collection of ghost stories and other assorted cautionary tales, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. This particular film is based on the story The Bookworm, for those interested in seeing how differently things play out in the two versions. As with most classic Hong Kong ghost films, your enjoyment of The Enchanting Ghost will depend on having properly set expectations for a slower pace and light supernatural elements. With that in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchanting Ghost from start to finish. It is a finely crafted film that definitely makes you wait for the ghostly happenings, but the journey towards them is also largely charming and entertaining.

Lang Yu Zhu (Yang Li-Hua, playing against gender as a male) is a scholar whose entire existence is consumed by his affection for learning and books. He doesn’t do much else, based in part on his particular love for a real-life poem by Emperor Zhenzong titled Quanxueshi (劝学诗). The poem is a love letter to studying, expressing that study can bring such things as fortunes, good harvests, and beautiful women. When we meet Lang, he is lovingly reciting these lines of the poem, and in a few short minutes he is given the chance to test the poem’s theories. Lang’s uncle covets his home, so he arranges with an official to seize it from Lang under the auspices of repaying the debt left by Lang’s father when he passed. Whether this debt is legitimate or not, Lang is thrown out into the street with nowhere to call home, so he decides to take up residence in the town’s derelict haunted house.

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Purple Darts (1969)

purpledarts_3Purple Darts [紫金鏢] (1969)

Starring Wang Ling, Tung Li, Ou Wei, Cho Kin, Li Kuan-Chang, Lee Fung, Cheung Sai-Sai, Chow Siu-Hing, Tai Leung, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Fairly low.

threehalfstar


It’s a shame that Purple Darts is one of the Shaw Brothers films that never received a DVD release from Celestial, because it’s a great wuxia full of fun characters and tense fights. Its story isn’t always the slickest, the characters’ motivations are usually somewhat cloudy and unexplained, there are “important” things that ultimately mean nothing, and the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but Purple Darts finds ways to make those discrepancies fly away like a slick wuxia hero. It’s by far the best film I’ve seen from Pan Lei, and I’m sad that his final martial arts film for the Shaw Brothers, 1971’s The Merciful Sword, is currently MIA. Maybe it’ll eventually turn up like Purple Darts.

Like many Shaw martial arts films from the 1960s, Purple Darts opens with an infant in peril. Her parents are under assault from four villainous figures of the martial world: Bai Feng the Butcher, Lu Dachao the Bull Demon, Gu Miaozhen the Seducer, and Wang Yizhou The Wind Waving Scholar. Together they seek the Great Mystery Scriptures, a kung fu manual with unexplained power and importance. The infant’s mother manages to smuggle her out through a hidden tunnel, and an old man takes the baby in. Cue the credits! And now, just as in a good majority of these ’60s wuxias, the credits end and the infant is now a 20-something adult in search of vengeance for the crimes against her parents!

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The Fastest Sword (1968)

The Fastest Sword [天下第一劍] (1968)

Starring Liu Ping, Chu Jing, Go Ming, Han Chiang, Liu Wai, Chiu Keung, Lee Goon-Cheung, Law Hon, Man Gau, Chuen Yuen, Gam Lee-Sang, Man Man, Tai Leung, Ling Siu, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Low.


Going into The Fastest Sword I had little to no expectations. It featured no one that I recognized from a quick look at the cast list and I had never heard of director Pan Lei either. The Fastest Sword took me by surprise though, as it’s actually a very good martial drama that revolves around the classic story trope of the cursed warrior who wants nothing more than to leave his past life behind him. It surprisingly brings together nearly all the necessary elements for a fun film: great directing, quality acting & martial performance, and a well-written screenplay.

The film opens with a badass swordsman from the South (Liu Ping) taking on three combatants who have come to avenge their brother’s murder. He quickly takes them out and an old man steps up and challenges the swordsman to a duel. If the old man wins, the famous Southern Sword must stay with him and train for three years. The cocky young man agrees and within the space of a few seconds he’s bested by the bearded elderly master. The film then moves into what is the first real extended master/pupil sequence I’ve seen while doing this review series, and I welcome the scene with open arms. It isn’t the training sequences martial arts fans are accustomed though (so don’t envision Challenge of the Masters), but it features some of the best moments of the film, specifically when the master tasks his student with carving a statue out of a giant rock. The master gives his student his task and then says, “I’ll be back in six months.” It’s a fantastic scene and one that eventually leads our hero to seek a new life as a mason in a small town.

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