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A unique ghostly programme at Film Archive

From Betty Loh-ti's graceful and elegant ghost in the 1960s to Joey Wang Tsu-hsien's romantic, enchanting ghost in the 1980s and 1990s, the story of the beautiful maiden Nie Xiaoqian has been adapted to films made in different decades with each version interpreting the story in a unique way and each embodying the spirit that defines its time.

Hong Kong Film Archive's new programme "The Enchanting Ghost – Film Adaptations of Nie Xiaoqian" will showcase six different versions of this ghost story from August 18 to September 2 at the Cinema of the Film Archive.

Films to be screened are director Li Han-hsiang's Cannes-travelled masterpiece "The Enchanting Shadow" (1960), Taiwanese director Yao Fung-pan's "The Blue Lamp in Winter Night" (1974), Tsui Hark's adaptation with Ching Siu-tung's high-tech romance "A Chinese Ghost Story" trilogy (1987, II in 1990 and III in 1991) and the first computer-generated animation in Hong Kong cinema "A Chinese Ghost Story" (1997).

All these films are based on a short story of not more than a few thousand words, in which the beautiful ghost Nie Xiaoqian endowed with the capacity for death is a variation of the femme fatale figure that had mesmerised men through time and across cultures.

Yet she is also fragile and cursed by fate. Her tragic disposition is evocative of empathy and admiration. The enchanting appeal of the ghost story has attracted different directors to adapt it into films.

Director Li Han-hsiang, with his signature fluid style, expert touch for costume pictures and fondness for portraying women characters, fabricated this almost a perfect masterpiece "The Enchantment Shadow". Betty Loh-ti played in one of Hong Kong cinema's most memorable performances as the kind-hearted but ill-fated ghost and set the definition for enchantment.

With a different style, director Yao Fung-pan's "The Blue Lamp in Winter Night" embellished the ghost story with elements of horror films from the West, from eerie atmospherics to grotesque make-up and blood-sucking a la Dracula to a Wizard of the Oz - like ending. Chiang Min's portrayal of Nie Xiaoqian is not as sorrowful as Betty Loh-ti's but with a modern sensibility.

As a tribute to Li Han-hsiang's 1960 entry, directors Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung's "A Chinese Ghost Story" updated the story with a quintessent touch of the 1980s. The use of high-tech special effects, trendy romantic touches and lush visual images are complemented by flamboyant action set pieces and evocative music written by the late James Wong. Joey Wang as the maiden ghost and Leslie Cheung as the pure-hearted lad make one of the most memorable pairings in the history of Hong Kong cinema.

With the same leading cast, "A Chinese Ghost Story II" continued to use the epic struggle between man and monster as a social commentary accented on political allegories. The film's arch villain is the National Priest, a holy man who corrupts the nation by pulling the wool over much of the imperial court, and who turns out to be a tank-like centipede.

Although the title ghost is no longer named Nie Xiaoqian in "A Chinese Ghost Story III", she is virtually the same character as played by Joey Wang. The biggest twist is realised by replacing the Confucian scholar with a young monk played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who takes the romantic relationship between man and ghost to a new dimension.

Tsui Hark's first computer-generated dramatic animation "A Chinese Ghost Story" inspired a new milestone in Hong Kong films. Disney cartoons and Japanese animation were generously essayed to realise the exploits of Nie Xiaoqian. She is no longer elegant or sexy but with a child-like innocence befitting of an animation feature, as well as a boyish charm.

All films carry Chinese and English subtitles.

Tickets priced at $30 for all screenings are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Reservations can be made by phone on 2734 9009 or on the internet at .

Detailed programme information is available in the "ProFolio 38" distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the websites: .

Ends/Thursday, July 19, 2007

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