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Film / A Chinese Ghost Story

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A Hong Kong fantasy-horror-comedy film series by Tsui Hark. The original film was released in 1987. It's an adaption of the 1960 Shaw Brothers classic, The Enchanting Shadow, which was based on Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.

Ning, played by Leslie Cheung, is a timid tax collector living somewhere in Imperial China. His job requires him to travel to rural areas, and this way he arrives at a certain town, but he's broke, so he is forced to seek shelter in a deserted temple in the forest on the outskirts. That night in the temple, Ning meets a beautiful and alluring young maiden called Nie (Joey Wong). However, when he later recalls last night's events the next day, he becomes increasingly fearful and superstitious. It turns out Nie is actually a spirit, enslaved by a Tree Demon who forces her ghosts to kill men. But Ning manages to fall in love with her in the meanwhile, and decides to free her, and to do this enlists the help of Yin, a Taoist priest and wizard and all-round badass.

There were two sequels, released respectively in 1990 and 1991. In the first of them, Ning gets into a political affair which turns out to have a supernatural background. In the second, which is set a century after the first film, two monks stumble upon the same Tree Demon to finish it once for all. There's also an 1997 Animated Adaptation of the first filmnote , with a more kid-friendly feelnote . The original got a remake directed by Wilson Yip in 2011, starring Liu Yifei as Nie.

The films include the following tropes:

  • Anachronistic Soundtrack: Part of Yin's introduction have him breaking out in a rap number, with an anachronistic jazz soundtrack blaring in the background. It lasts for an entire minute and is never brought up for the rest of the film.
  • Animesque: The animated adaption.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: in the second film, we get a gigantic centipede monster.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Ning, although most of the time it tends to be Badass Unintentional or Mistaken for Badass.
  • Badass Preacher: Yin's a monk, and so are several other characters. Also, the chanting Buddhist monks. Well, actually you better not rub off any monks or priests in the wrong way there — if you're lucky, they'll just kick your ass and not turn out to be huge demonic centipede in disguise.
  • Battle Cry: Altogether, guys: PAO YE PAO LO MI !!!
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Ning is a human scholar who, after being forced to spend a night in a derelict temple, ends up falling for it's resident ghost girl, Nie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The first film our hero frees his ghostly lover, but she is apparently reincarnated somewhere else.
  • Body of Bodies: In a variation, the evil demon at the end of the first film has a torso entirely composed of screaming human faces.
  • Brown Note: Buddhist chanting in the second movie - actually coming from aforementioned demonic centipede.
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: In the second movie, the young Kunlun priest gives Ning a special symbol that can freeze anyone and anything. Ning promptly turns it on the priest, then himself, and the very demon they were preparing to face as it's hovering over them.
    "Move your eyes up-down for 'yes' and left-right for 'no'..." (Ning draws attention towards the demon) "What the hell is 'diagonal' mean?!"
  • Covered in Gunge: In the first movie, Ning and Yin facing the tree demon's tongue.
  • Creepy Centipedes: The Big Bad of the second movie appears to be an incredibly powerful buddhist monk, but is actually a gigantic centipede demon masquerading as a holy man.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: The Tree Demon is a male actor dressed as a woman. Also, it should be noted the Tree Demon speaks with male AND female voice simultaneously.
  • Demonic Possession: In the second movie, after the corpse demon is killed, it takes over Windy's body. Thankfully it doesn't last.
  • Devil, but No God: While Buddhist sutras and statues hold genuine power, it's still the demons who remain dominant in all cases. The second movie even involves a Buddha manifestation that turns out to be fake.
  • Epic Flail: A swordmaster in the second movie carries four swords, as well as a whip he uses to grab and swing all of them at once.
  • The Fool: Ning is practically the archetypal manifestation of this trope, given how many times his life is saved by complete random happenstance. Takes on some of the aspects of The Chew Toy at times, given that whatever is responsible for his luck doesn't seem to care about keeping him happy, just alive.
  • Ghostly Goals: proper burial, but in a rather unusual spin of the trope, it's more to break the Tree Demon's hold than as a goal in itself.
  • Greed: The magistrate in the first film: when he's not acting like a Hanging Judge, he's asking to be paid. When Ning tells him that he'd pay him if he had the money, the magistrate downright orders him to get out and steal money to pay him. When Yin shows up (creating a Mass "Oh, Crap!") he cowardly hides under his desk, begging Yin not to rob him because he's poor.
  • Hold the Line: The Taoist Warrior Priest (Waise Lee) attempts this in the second movie, fighting agaisnt hordes and hordes of demons all at once.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: Both films have a scene taking place in an Inn of No Return where bandits hide to attack passersby, kill them and cook them.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Tao of Tao in the animated version.
  • Kamehame Hadoken: Yin shoots them like a machine gun, while flying.
  • Kung-Fu Wizard: Yin, and at least one other character. They show both martial arts and magic usually cast by throwing spells written on paper. This gets quite mixed, coming to a climax of fight choreography, flying around from tree to tree, and spellcasting.
  • Legacy Character: In the third movie, Jacky Cheung, who was in the second, plays a completely unrelated character who's taken the name of Yin.
  • Magical Foreign Words: Sanskrit is treated as this.
  • Master of Threads: Nip Siu-sin, the titular ghost, can send lengths of cloth from her white dress flying through the air to catch and restrain people.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The distinctive yip-yip-howl of a coyote can be heard in the first film's graveyard. The film is set in Ancient China, like what the title said.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: More like Ominous Buddhist Chanting, the BGM that gets played in the 2nd films that serves as the villain theme song for the Imperial High Monk and his entourage.
  • One-Winged Angel: In the second film. To be honest, the first form was impressive in its own right. In the first movie, the Tree Demon appears as either a menacing human in black, a giant wooden tongue or, in the climax, as a warrior in black with four axes on his back.
  • Overly-Long Tongue: The Tree Demon manifests a flattened, prehensile tongue long enough to fight two or three opponents at once, which gets stabbed several times by the heroes.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They pass quite well for a human, and they're enslaved by a demon.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
  • Prehensile Hair: Ghosts can do this.
  • Reincarnation Romance: In the second film, somehow.
  • Retcon: The third movie takes footage from the first and re-dubs it all to make new plot points.
  • Sky Surfing: on a hover-sword.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: the demons just can't die without blowing up. It's like they're Made of Explodium.
  • To Hell and Back: The climax of the first movie involves the Yin and Ning pretty much storming what looks like the Netherworld to save Nie and slay the evil demons behind it.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Ning. Just some poor schmuck who stumbled upon a paranormal affair. Though, as it appears, he's got surprising guts when a girl's soul is at stake.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Ning, so very, very, very much.
  • When Trees Attack: The Tree Demon, which the main characters have to face for the climactic final battle.
  • Wicked Witch: The Tree Demon.
  • Wuxia: Although The Chinese Ghost Story series has more of a fantasy element than most stories in the wuxia genre.

Alternative Title(s): Chinese Ghost Story