Director: Hsu Chiang Chou
88 Films

88 Films' 88 Asia line presents a more restrained example of Shaw Brothers horror with their Blu-ray of THE ENCHANTING GHOST.

When his uncle Zhongyuan colludes with local official Shi to seize his late brother's home with falsified documents of incurred debts, his student nephew Yuzhu (Li Hua Yang) is kicked out on the streets. When he decides that he will make his new home in the abandoned Xiaolin estate, he is warned by the locals that the place is haunted by the family's daughter who refused to commit suicide for her family's honor and instead was locked up in her bedroom where she starved to death. Reasoning that ghosts are afraid of scholars, Yuzhu moves into the house and is quickly unnerved by the usual trappings of bats, cobwebs, and beautiful but eerie singing; however, he is frightened by sightings of a woman with long dark hair until he discovers that she is actually Ruyu (Mei-Yao Chang), a young woman who has taken shelter in the house with her ailing mother after they were attacked by robbers on the road. After her mother dies, Ruyu has nowhere to go but Yuzhu believes that they were fated to meet as his studies have told him that his scholarly diligence will be rewarded with "rare beauty" and marries her. The pair spends all of their time together and only Yuzhu makes trips to town to sell the clothes his wife weaves to support both of them, leading the well-intentioned locals to believe that he has been mesmerized by a female ghost. Ruyu takes advantage of this superstition when Zhongyuan, believing that Yuzhu plans to appeal the seizure of his property, breaks into the house with the intention of killing his nephew and scares him off. When Shi satisfies his curiosity and discovers that Ruyu is indeed a living, breathing female, he abducts her and rapes her. Fearing a scandal, Shi's wife and her maid Chuntao (also his concubine) decide that Ruyu must be silenced. While Yuzhu believes that he has been abandoned by his true love, Ruyu sets about avenging herself upon the guilty.

Made half a decade before the more notorious Shaw Brothers' sleazy horror films like BLACK MAGIC, HUMAN LANTERNS, and KILLER SNAKES among others, THE ENCHANTING GHOST is a romantic drama for the bulk of the running time with the more horrific aspects during the first act utilized for comic effect. This will likely grate on audiences expecting the sleaze and gore of later Chinese horror or the artiness of Japanese ghost stories of the sixties, but the climax delivers some moderately effective ghostly retribution setpieces. The love story disappoints for the most part because of the wishy-washiness of protagonist Yuzhu, and the perplexing casting of a woman as a man does not help when much of his dialogue is just as whiny as his cries for Ruyu in her absence. Chang is much more effective at conveying the tragic aspects of their romance in the third act as she hides herself from him in shame, but the most lively female performances come from the actresses playing Shi's wife and mistress. The dynamics of the relationships are quite interesting here with Ruyu not only financially supporting Yuzhu but also being more resourceful in general – Yuzhu is also protected by the locals who unintentionally make him a target for his uncle when shaming the older man for his actions behind his back with the intention of him overhearing them – while Shi turns into a blubbering mess who is first easily manipulated by wife and mistress into coming to the conclusion that Ruyu must be killed and then depends upon them to execute the task. The supernatural antics in the final act are amusing but let down both by bad opticals and choreography in which the ghosts' "playing" with their victims goes on for far too long. The art direction and costumes of Shih Wei Peng (5 MASTERS OF DEATH) is colorful – with the Xiaolin estate a set on an impressive sound stage with a cyclorama backdrop, an overgrown courtyard, and a misty lake – but the Shawscope photography of Hsi Lu Chen (DRAGON VS. NEEDLES OF DEATH) is functional at best.

Unreleased theatrically in the US or the UK and only previously available on DVD in China and Taiwan, THE ENCHANTING GHOST comes to Region B Blu-ray in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode that is derived from a 2005 master created by Celestial Pictures who bought the Shaw library and started digitally restoring titles around that period. Colors are rich but the image looks a bit flat overall. The Mandarin LPCM 2.0 mono track is clean and the optional English subtitles are free of any glaring errors. The sole menu option is to play the feature. The only extra is an eight-page booklet by Lingge Dong that provides some much-needed and appreciated context to the film including the protagonist's social role as pedant devoting his life to scholarly pursuit and first supported by his family and then his wife, as well as the roles of women in driving the narrative. Most intriguing is Dong's discussion of the source story "The Pedant" by Pu Songling – whose story collection also provided the source for the better-known A CHINESE GHOST STORY – and the liberties taken with the adaptation as well as aspects that are downplayed like the sexual life of the couple. The Blu-ray edition comes with a limited slipcase featuring the original Hong Kong poster art which is also featured on the reverse of the cover. (Eric Cotenas)