A tax collector (Leslie Cheung) travels to a rural town and ends up taking shelter in a creepy, deserted temple in the forest. Here he encounters a beautiful young woman (Joey Wang) and falls in love with her. A Taoist priest (Wu Ma), however, informs our hero that this woman is a ghost… and it is soon revealed that she is under the control of an evil Tree Demon.
Directed with kinetic panache by Ching Siu-Tung, this film is a horror-romance-martial-arts-comedy-actioner that is crammed with atmosphere, emotion, gravity defying swordplay and some goofball physical comedy.
Its mix of Asian story elements (beautiful flying ghosts, a Taoist priest-swordsman, etc) and western filming techniques (Sam Raimi-esque roving cameras and some gooey FX) make this Hong Kong production an enormously entertaining watch, with Leslie Cheung, Joey Wang and Wu Ma all perfect in the leading roles.
Joey Wang is a standout playing the sexy-yet-vulnerable ghost, flying about the stylishly-lit locations in her flowing silk robes. There is a wonderful moment where she gives Leslie Cheung’s character (who is having to hide from her evil ‘sisters’ underwater) a slow motion kiss that is also providing him with much-needed air.
And, of course, we shouldn’t forget the shrivelled stop-motion corpses in the temple. These undead dudes shuffle around the building in the early part of the film, trying to get hold of the hero, but thanks to a series of comedic, lucky mishaps he remains completely unaware that the zombies are there, eventually killing them with sunlight without ever noticing them!
The ancient tree spirit villain is a great antagonist, appearing as a cross-dressing dame or a gigantic human tongue. At one point the tip of the huge tongue splits, becomes a toothed maw with a face at the back of the jaws, with tentacles sprouting everywhere!
Produced by the legendary Tsui Hark, this film really impressed me when I first saw it in the cinema back in 1987. With its effortless merging of genres, a haunting score and a finale featuring the heroes battling it out in the netherworld to save the heroine, the movie turned me into an avid, obsessed Hong Kong movie fan for many years!
(If you hunt this down to watch, make sure you see the perfectly-formed ’87 version and not the remake)