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Ghosts With Cell Phones

[whitespace] A Chinese Ghost Story
A Haunting Beauty: Tax collector Ning falls for vampire-ghost Shine in 'A Chinese Ghost Story--The Tsui Hark Animation.'

The animated 'Chinese Ghost Story' transcends its many fight scenes

By Richard von Busack

TAX COLLECTOR Ning is on his route in the countryside in A Chinese Ghost Story--The Tsui Hark Animation. Suddenly he's knocked into an ocean of polluted water inhabited by a 900-foot moray eel, which promptly devours him. It's all a dream, but it sets the tone for the animated cartoon to come. After the titles, Ning and Solid Gold, his dog, are trapped in a haunted temple (as in Tsui Hark's original 1987 live-action film A Chinese Ghost Story). The temple is quickly purged of stinking Foul Smell Spirits by "the most famous ghostbuster White Cloud" and his cocky assistant, Ten Miles the Flying Dragon of the Omnipotent White Cloud Temple. (Such a long name shows modesty, Ning decides later; it's so long that it's easily forgotten, which must have been what the demon-fighter had in mind.)

After Ten Miles and White Cloud battle with Red Beard, a rival ghost fighter, Ning and his dog travel to a ghost city, a cross between a medieval Chinese village and a modern-day mall where the ghosts carry cellular phones. At a ghost restaurant, our two heroes disguise themselves as zombies to fit in with the rest of the clientele. It's at this point that A Chinese Ghost Story--The Tsui Hark Animation transcends the fight scenes, which sometimes threaten to overwhelm it.

At the restaurant, Ning meets Shine, the lonely vampire/ghost; she at first wants to eat him but later is converted by love for him. It's a love that endures numerous battles, Shine's own crush on a mile-high demon rock star named Evil Mountain and the Reincarnation Train itself. Though the English subtitling makes A Chinese Ghost Story--The Tsui Hark Animation for children over age 7, Andrew Chen's direction makes this a wild animated fantasy completely divorced from the Disney template. Really the film has more stylistic links to the Fleischer Brothers' animation of the 1930s. The less than state-of-the-art computer animation is reminiscent of the solid 3-D backdrops of some of the early Popeye cartoons. And Ning, spooked by the legions of weird ghosts, utters that glottal shudder ("Oh-uh-uh-uh!") that Bimbo the Dog used to make in the scarier Betty Boop cartoons. The cosmic theme builds to an unusually touching payoff at the Gate of Reincarnation. The better qualities of the Hong Kong franchise are here, including the extremely strong female characters, the lack of admiration for ruthlessness and, especially, the sense of peaceful human characters making their uneasy way between evil-doers and cruel authority.

A Chinese Ghost Story--The Tsui Hark Animation (Unrated; 84 min), an animated film directed by Andrew Chen.

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From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro.

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