A Chinese Ghost Story

Reviewed by: sukting

August 18, 2010

Rating: three

How long
1.5 hours

A Chinese Ghost Story means is a romantic comedy but is also a horror film. It is directed by Ching Siu Tung and produced by Tsui Hark. Why is this movie so well received? How did Cheung Kok Wing and Wong Jo Yin shoot to stardom due to it? You may wish to find out why.

Story/Introduction on characters

Ning Cai Chen (Cheung Kok Wing) is a timid tax collector whose job requires him to travel to rural areas. A powerful Taoist priest and master swordsman called Yan Chixia can tell that he is down in luck. Why? He is with a torn umbrella and is caught in the rain. Both are at a stop and he throws a cold bun to Cai Chen to eat. He also gives him a tailsman to protect himself.

He arrives at a town but is forced to seek shelter in a deserted temple, Lan Ruo temple in the forest as the inns are fully occupied. That night, Ning meets a beautiful young maiden called Nie Xiao Qian (Wong Jo Yin). He is attracted by her zither music and falls in love with her after saving her from a snake.

Unknown to him, Xiao Qian is a ghost and has killed one man, Hu (Hu Dai Wai) by sucking his manhood against her wishes. Hu has claimed that he is scared of nothing but succumbs to her charms without knowing to get killed. Xiao Qian cannot harm Cai Chen due to the tailsman.

All the villagers are astonished to see Cai Chen back unharmed. They have never seen a man alive back from the temple. So when Cai Chen recalls how he finds the dry body the next day, he becomes very frightened. That night, he returns to the temple again and confirms that Xiao Qian is really a ghost. Xiao Qing (Suet Chi Lun) is Xiao Qian’s helper and gets peeved when Xiao Qian refuses to kill Cai Chen.

Xiao Qian tells him her story of how she is forced to serve the Tree Demon (Lau Siu Ming). She explains that as long as her remains are buried at the foot of the tree, her spirit will be controlled by the Tree Demon. Just then, the tree demon smells blood and comes in. Xiao Qian pushes Cai Chen into the bathtub and lies that she is taking a bath.

Seeing that Cai Chen is losing his breath, she quickly gives him the kiss of life. That is why they fall for each other. Xiao Qing tries very hard to seduce Cai Chen but fails. In the end, Yan kills her after discovering her act. Cai Chen wants to free her. He then seeks the help of Yan.
Yan confronts the Tree Demon but fails. Xiao Qian's soul is taken to the Underworld for betraying her master.

Yan destroys the tree demon by uprooting the tree. Cai Chen is unwilling to give up on Nie and insists that Yan helps him. Yan manages to open a temporary route to the Underworld. The men enter the Underworld to try to free her soul. They are unable to find her from the thousands of other spirits.

At last, Cai Chen and Xiao Qian are able to see each other close to dawn when sunlight shines on the urn containing her cremated remains. Cai Chen promises Xiao Qian that he will place her remains to rest at another more auspicious burial site before she returns to the darkness. He has to put all the blinds back to the window to prevent them from falling and can only talk to her.

Both do not get to see each other for the last time. Cai Chen follows her instructions to find a good spot. With Yan's advice, he buries her remains near the crest of a hill. He burns a joss stick for her and prays for her soul. Yan knows that no amount of words can console him so he stands behind him to watch silently.

Most favourite character
Cai Chen, he is innocent and timid but he can also brave to risk his life for his lover.

Most hated character

There are 3 themesongs. The first themesong is the movie title《倩女幽魂》which is sung by Kok Wing. It is a pity that it did not win any awards although he sang so well on how many difficulties Cai Chen needs to overcome to deal with debt collecting and to help Xiao Qian to reincarnate into another world.

The music arrangement is excellent to blend many music instruments into one. Who can forget the chorus when the strings of the zither are being strum? This song is also used in the 2003 Taiwan drama – it shows that a classic will forever remain as one.

The second is 《黎明不要来》- the dawn never comes by Yip Sin Mun. It was originally meant to refer to prostitutes who can’t face dawn as this signifies no business for them. Wong Jim later thought that it fitted the movie like a glove as Xiao Qian could not see daylight too so he used it here. This arrangement gave him a chance to win the best song award. Yip also sings it with lots of emotions so it is not a surprise that she wins the award too.

The third is 道 sung by Mr Wong Jim himself. It shows how Yan Chi Xia mumbles when he gets drunk. Yan is a person who doesn’t follow rules and wants to do whatever he pleases. Although he was modest to say that he was not cut out to be a singer, I found that he sang very well as no one else can bring out the wild side of Yan Chi Xia.

Interesting facts

The story is based on a short story (聂小倩) in the Qing Dynasty literature, Liao Zai from writer Pu Song Ling. I have always loved reading his works. The story has Cai Chen as a scholar but the film makes him to be a tax collector to depict the difficulties of life.

This movie was an instant hit in many countries when shown. It made Jo Yin and Kok Wing famous. It also marked the trend of plenty folktale ghost films to be shot later. It had 2 sequels – A Chinese Ghost Story II人间道 1990 and A Chinese Ghost Story III倩女幽魂 III:道道道. Tsui Hark also made a Chinese animation on it, the voices were dubbed by Zhang Ai Jia and Wu Qi Long. There is also a China/Taiwan television version Eternity: A Chinese Ghost Story which I has written a review on it.

My parents said there was another 1960 movie version by Director Li Han Xiang. Famous artistes Zhao Lei, Lei Di, Yang Chi Qing and Tong Yuk Ching were involved in this 1.5h movie.

There are many hints that Xiao Qian and Cai Chen can’t be together. Xiao Qian breaks a string on her qin when she first meets him. This means separation as one of them is a ghost while another is a mortal.

The movie won the following awards at 1988 Hong Kong film awards. That include Best Art Direction, Best Original Film Score (Mr Doi Lok Mun) and Best Original Film Song 《黎明不要来》 (Mr Wong Jim and Yip Sin Mun).

The other categories nominated were Best Action Choreography (Ching Siu Tung), Best Actress (Wong Jo Yin), Best Cinematography, Best Director (Ching Siu Tung) , Best Film Editing, Best Original Film Song (Wong Jim and Cheung Kok Wing) , Best Picture (Tsui Hark) and Best Supporting Actor (Wu Ma)

As for the 1987 Golden Horse Awards, Wu Ma won the best suporting actor award. Mr Yuen Kai Chi won the best translation script, Mr Chan Gu Fong won best costume design and the Tsui Mark company won Best editing. It was sad that Cheung Kok Wing did not win any awards although he was recognised for his hard work. He was grateful that his early days in shooting period dramas for ATV and TVB made him experienced in acting in this movie.


This is a typical love story between a spirit and a mortal. The director makes use of a literature classic not just to let others know about Liao Zai. It also expresses the complicated relation between Xiao Qian, Cai Chen and Yan. It stresses on love and friendship. It also tells on how the evil can never triumph upon the good. The three characters are very striking and all remember them till this day.

Tsui also uses many techniques to make the movie come across as spooky and mysterious. My complain is too many scenes are too dark that I can see a thing. Certain parts of Cai Chen and Xiao Qian romancing each other can also be too long. But he has a lot of foresight in choosing the suitable characters for the roles.

With a handsome man and a beautiful woman, nothing should go wrong unless both can’t act. Luckily, the two leads do not let us down. Kok Wing really comes across as a pathetic man who is often bullied but is lucky to cheat death for many times. I have never considered Jo Yin as an actress as she doesn’t act well in many films. She comes as a surprise here, looking refreshed, pitiful and weak with her mournful eyes. She also has the periodic maiden look although she can be too tall.

She is worth nominated for the best actress award. There is an air of serene around her so she becomes the best spokesman for ghost movies. Wu Ma makes Yan come across as calm, witty and alert. He deserves to win the best supporting actor award. However, luck is not on Lau Siu Ming’s side as I think he does equally well as the evil tree demon. He should also win an award.

There isn’t anymore chance of us seeing Kok Wing and Jo Yin working again. So those who have not watched this movie should give it a shot. You will not be disappointed by the earnest acting and elaborate sets. The movies in the 80s are presented in their best and that is why they remain unforgettable.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : *** (Scale of 5)

On songs : ***** (Scale of 5) (definitely the best of all time!)

Add your own review and become a featured critic on spcnet.tv!

Buy Now

A Hero Born (Legend of the Condor Heroes)Jin Yong English Translation Book 1

A Bond Undone (Legend of the Condor Heroes)Jin Yong English Translation Book 2

Buy Locca Boba Tea Kit

Love bubble tea?DIY Boba Tea Set