The Daily Stream: A Chinese Ghost Story Is Hilarious, Horrifying, And Heartfelt

A Chinese Ghost Story Choi-san and Siu-sin stare at each other

(Welcome to The Daily Stream , an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "A Chinese Ghost Story"

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: Take the exciting action and romance of a Chinese wuxia film, like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" or "Dragon Inn." Mix with it the horror schlock and Looney Tunes hijinx of a later "Evil Dead" movie. Add a touch of "Monty Python" style absurdism, and you have "A Chinese Ghost Story," directed by Ching Siu-Tung and produced by Hong Kong film industry legend Tsui Hark.

Our hero is Ning Choi-san, a hapless debt collector. Fresh out of money and desperate for a place to stay, he seeks out an abandoned temple in the woods to squat in. There he finds Nip Siu-sin, a beautiful young woman who wants to sleep with him. Choi-san is so lacking in social graces that he misses all of Siu-sin's cues, which is fortunate for him because Siu-sin is a treacherous ghost. Siu-sin finds herself falling for Choi-san's earnest ways, which is unfortunate for her because a vicious nearby tree spirit literally owns her bones. Do Choi-san and Siu-sin have a future together? It'll take Choi-san's strong will, Siu-sin's quick thinking and the help of a friendly Daoist monk to get them out of this mess.

Why it's essential viewing

Wuxia was dead to begin with, by the time "A Chinese Ghost Story" rolled into theaters in 1987. The golden age of directors King Hu ( "Come Drink With Me" ) and Chang Cheh ("One-Armed Swordsman") had long since passed. The new wave of Hong Kong martial arts films were mysteries ("The Butterfly Murders,") comedies ("Encounters of the Spooky Kind"), and gangster films ("A Better Tomorrow"). To return to the genre meant either to knowingly do homage or to do something completely different. "A Chinese Ghost Story" splits the difference. One half of the film takes inspiration from the classic ghost story collection "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," a favorite of Chinese film directors including wuxia master King Hu. The other is a bizarre horror comedy with a rapping Daoist monk , camera tricks lifted from Sam Raimi films, and non-stop skewering of wuxia conventions.

The genius of "A Chinese Ghost Story" lies in its dual effectiveness as romantic adventure and uproarious spoof. The role of Choi-san is played by legendary Hong Kong superstar Leslie Chung, the modern equivalent of having Beyonce play the put-upon lead in your movie. But his relationship with Siu-sin (played by a young Joey Wang) is treated sincerely, and given a tragic ending in keeping with Chinese wuxia tradition. The film's action strikes a similar balance between comedy and seriousness, keeping fights convincingly dangerous even as the finale goes over the top and then some. Across the ocean in 1987, fellow cult classic "The Princess Bride" similarly found a happy medium between winking pastiche and sincere delivery. "A Chinese Ghost Story" does much the same for its chosen stomping ground, Hong Kong cinema.

The evil dead

Of course, "A Chinese Ghost Story" doesn't just feature great actors, exciting action, and a love that conquers death. It has ghosts! Producer Tsui Hark and his team had collaborated with Hollywood to create exciting special effects for his earlier extravaganza, "Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain." "A Chinese Ghost Story" tells a more down-to-earth tale, but features its share of memorable creatures including lurking zombies, an underworld lord whose cloak hides hungry severed heads, and a terrifying tree spirit. The tree spirit especially represents the gonzo exuberance of the project. Their initial form is intimidating enough, an enormous tongue that wraps people up and swallows them whole. But then the tongue splits open, revealing an even larger fanged maw inside of the tongue with its own set of horrible tendrils!

To sell its vision of goofy horror, "A Chinese Ghost Story" borrows heavily from Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" films . The early appearances of the Tree Demon, heralded by a switch to first-person perspective as they hunt whichever hapless man is bedding Siu-sin, is a trick lifted from the very first "Evil Dead." The tree spirit itself animates surrounding branches to bind its prey, yet another riff on "The Evil Dead." Some of the funniest scenes in the movie split the difference between comedy and shlock horror , just as Raimi once did. As the hapless Choi-san wanders the forest temple, a posse of zombies reach from the ceiling and the floors. The scene whips from fear (is Choi-san a goner?) to hilarity (Choi-san keeps unknowingly evading their clutches) to absurdity (how is he still alive!?) without missing a beat.

Love, death, and rebirth

The goofiness and maximalism of "A Chinese Ghost Story" means that it isn't precisely scary. For nasty thrills, you're better off seeking Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell." But the special effects of "A Chinese Ghost Story" are lovingly detailed and still hold up. The temple skeletons and vengeful tree spirit remain impressive, and our heroes remain believably outmatched until the end despite coming into their own as fighters. According to Lisa Morton's "The Cinema of Tsui Hark," director Ching Siu-Tung and producer Tsui Hark were reportedly divided on whether to emphasize horror or romance. But I can't imagine the film without both.

"A Chinese Ghost Story" won a cult following not only in Hong Kong but also on the Chinese mainland. It would go on to spawn two sequels , an animated series, and a reboot. There's even a multiplayer Chinese RPG called "A Chinese Ghost Story," and if your franchise spawns one of those in China then you really have it made. The sequels have their charms, and continue to push the boundaries of special effects in Hong Kong cinema. But the original was a genuine lightning-in-a-bottle film, the kind you could swear was an accident if the crew weren't so skilled. While I'd recommend a viewer new to wuxia seek out "Dragon Inn" and "A Touch of Zen" for the best of the best, "A Chinese Ghost Story" just may be more fun.

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‘A Chinese Ghost Story’ (1987): Confronting the Unknown

chinese comedy ghost story

The romantic-horror-comedy is often dismissed as a product of the ’80s, but A Chinese Ghost Story grapples with a complex way of the world

In A Chinese Ghost Story , the tension between the worlds of mortals and ghosts is presented as fact, like the wind and the rain. Director Ching Siu-Tung imagines life as an unceasing collision of opposing forces and the human efforts to make them accord through mastery of practice and by force of will. The film follows Ning Choi-San (Leslie Cheung), a hapless young debt collector sent to an unknown town. After getting caught in a torrent of rain, his account book is ruined, leaving him unable to collect money. Upon reaching his destination, Ning Choi-San seeks shelter at the Lan Yeuk Temple, a haunted and abandoned structure populated by reanimated skeletons and inhabited by a lone Taoist priest and swordsman, Yin Chek-Ha (Wu Ma). Ning Choi-San, during his first night at the temple, falls in love with Lip Siu-Sin (Joey Wong), who the swordsman warns him is a spirit. Yet Ning Choi-San’s love is profound and he becomes determined to free Lip Siu-Sin from the underworld and from her spiritual imprisonment by the Tree Demoness (Lau Siu-Ming), which results in a grand battle between the living and the dead.

Western critics have called the film derivative of The Evil Dead (1981) and many reviews comment on the film being “ absolutely a product of the 1980s .” Efforts to narrow the film into a genre result in a clunky classification as a “romantic comedy horror film.” But when one avoids such categorical approaches, the film reveals itself to be more than just a goofy product of ’80s horror-comedy. A Chinese Ghost Story is exploring confrontations between man and nature and the influence they have upon each other. Each character and element of the film is dramatized to often comic extremes to heighten our attention to these relationships. The rain does not drizzle, it pours down in buckets, as when we are introduced to Ning Choi-San, who is helpless to the effects of nature that befall him and his shabby umbrella. The wind violently whips against the trees in the forest and ripples through the flowing robes worn by Lip Siu-Sin during her battle scenes. In town, the citizens all whisper in unison behind Ning Choi-San’s back when he announces his plans to sleep in the haunted temple, and the local police force is cartoonishly belligerent in their pursuit of anyone who even vaguely appears to be breaking the law. 

chinese comedy ghost story

With horror and genre films specifically, one expects to have certain expectations met. As A Chinese Ghost Story moves between an array of styles and tones, viewers may benefit from adopting a similar mindset to that of the swordsman, who takes nothing as obvious within the world of the film, and treats no question as unworthy of consideration. In a brief interaction with Ning Choi-San, we understand how the Taoist warrior approaches each moment with a keen awareness. After the bottom of his garments is torn off by demons, Ning Choi-San asks the swordsman, “Where is my bottom half?” Not knowing what the young man is referring to, he replies after brief consideration, “Attached to your top half.” While this line operates partly as comic relief, Yin Chek-Ha offers a way of responding to the world that gives all outside interaction full and serious attention. Even though Ning Choi-San is a clumsy younger guy, the swordsman treats his question as he would any serious matter. Similarly, the exaggerated elements of the film, which may be described as theatrical or comical merely for entertainment’s sake, allow the viewer to see more clearly the forces that dictate the relationships between all things living or dead. The Dao, or “The Way” as understood by westerners, is roughly translated as the path that each thing follows. The wind cannot embody its Dao without grappling or acknowledging the Dao of fabric. The confluence of these co-existing Dao results in an impactful flourish of white garment as it dances through the air. Similarly, the Dao of the Swordsman and the Dao of the Tree Demoness, or more generally, the Dao of the mortals and the Dao of the ghosts collide, resulting in fantastic battle scenes, pushing each character to the absolute limits of their abilities and the film itself to absurd climactic heights.

The film creates a necessity to approach each scene with a new energy appropriate to each moment as the film moves between horror, comedy, and romance. The Dao Rap, one of the film’s funniest and liveliest moments, goes so far as to move us into a highly stylized music video in the middle of the film. Yin Chek-Ha sings the rap seemingly drunk on his own song and dance, yet the performance also expresses the swordsman’s understanding of his place in the world. He exalts the Dao of heaven and earth, of man and his sword, and even the “Dao of the Dao itself.” The swordsman acknowledges the concurrent natural influences that inhabit his own path resolving to “find my own Dao” just as the natural elements embody their Dao. The scene is a dramatic tonal shift and seems to come out of nowhere. Yet the rap shows the swordsman practicing a wholehearted embrace and even celebration in his confrontation with the unknown. The swordsman provides the template for how fervent internal transformation can be the apt response to a constantly transforming environment.

chinese comedy ghost story

A Chinese Ghost Story continually pushes its own limits of stylistic possibility. For example, one of the films’ final surprises comes in the form of an attack on the protagonists by a veiny, soaking wet tongue that might be 300 feet long. The temple’s moaning skeletons are pitiful in comparison. The sense of consequence and the absurdity of action are pushed to their extreme as the film grows increasingly absurd and violent. Yet A Chinese Ghost Story does rely often on more generic formulations of romanticism and action while still employing an ingenious form of filmmaking that refuses to settle into any one mode. For instance, the romantic scenes are highly idealized, as in the opening scene of Lip Siu-Sin seducing a writer and putting his hands under her robe while sappy music plays. Ching Siu-Tung provokes the viewer to leap with the film between modes of understanding in each scene, yet the emotions and ideas conveyed within many scenes come across as formulaic.The film’s reliance on popular conceptions of love, action, and humor detracts from the film’s energy and ingenuity of form.

Embodying one’s own Dao is not always a purely inward discovery that leads us to a new sense of self conception. Water is often used as an example of pure adaptability that we can use as humans to respond better to situations. In this way, the Dao of water does not point to what we should do, but how we might do it. The Dao is the form of our being, not the content. In this way it becomes a great tool to understand the form of A Chinese Ghost Story .

A Chinese Ghost Story seeks to expand our conceptions of existence by showing how we might actively respond to the forces of nature and humanity as we encounter them. Each human being has a unique path as each form of weather and life embodies its Dao in different ways. External forces of Dao, like that of water, provide an example of how we might create our own individual attitude or Dao, which accords with our surroundings. In each new scene of the film and in each new encounter in our own lives, there exists the potential to find new ways to engage with all change. Through his film, Ching Siu-Tung provides a template for the shrewd grappling one must commit to in every encounter with change itself. He offers a chance to encounter life and art indiscriminately, treating every event as worthy of our full and active attention. A Chinese Ghost Story asks us to celebrate the confluence of Dao rather than fight it, or if we must fight it, to fight wholeheartedly. 

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Shane Pfender

Shane is an actor and writer in Austin, Texas. He is producer and co-host of the Reel Rap podcast. At 12, he chopped his toe off with an axe while splitting wood barefoot at his childhood home in Yardley, Pennsylvania. His book of poetry “Sliding into First” is slated for release in January 2026. His influences include Norman Mailer, Francis Scott Key, and Marianne Moore.

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A Chinese Ghost Story

1987, Horror, 1h 38m

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A chinese ghost story   photos.

In this martial arts film, Ning Choi-san (Leslie Cheung), a traveling tax collector, takes shelter for the night in an abandoned temple. When he meets the lovely maiden Nip Siu-sin (Tsu-hsien Wang), Ning immediately falls for her. Unfortunately, Ning later discovers that she is a ghost who is forced to serve a cruel demon, and he resolves to save her from the evil spirit. Enlisting the aid of Taoist warrior Yin Chik-hsia (Ma Wu), Ning ventures into a supernatural realm to save Nip's soul.

Genre: Horror

Original Language: Chinese

Director: Tony Ching Siu Tung

Producer: Hark Tsui

Writer: Kai-Chi Yun

Release Date (Theaters): Feb 18, 1988  original

Release Date (Streaming): Jul 16, 2020

Runtime: 1h 38m

Distributor: Facets

Aspect Ratio: Flat (1.85:1), 35mm

Cast & Crew

Leslie Cheung

Ling Choi Sin

Joey Wong Cho-Yin

Lit Sin Seen

Yin Chek Hsia

Siu-Ming Lau

Tony Ching Siu Tung

Kai-Chi Yun

Zhong Zheng

Executive Producer

Original Music

Yongheng Huang


David Wu Dai-Wai

Film Editing

Zhongwen Xi

Production Design

Chung Man Yee

Art Director

Gufang Chen

Costume Design

Critic Reviews for A Chinese Ghost Story

Audience reviews for a chinese ghost story.

An odd, entertaining and very funny supernatural romance that blends horror and slapstick humor quite efficiently, with great special effects and a lot of style, even though the musical numbers are pretty embarrassing and the end is a bit frustrating.

chinese comedy ghost story

A Chinese Ghost Story or "The Eternal Spirit of a Beauty" is a Hong Kong romantic comedy horror film starring Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong, and Wu Ma, directed by Ching Siu-tung, and produced by Tsui Hark. Loosely based plot on a short story from Qing Dynasty was developed into amazing screenplay. Ning Choi-san is a little bit dorky tax collector whose job requires him to travel to rural areas. Arriving at a town he is forced to seek shelter in a deserted temple in the forest on the outskirts because he did not have money to afford lodging at the town. That night in the temple, Ning meets a beautiful and alluring young maiden called Nip Siu-sin and falls in love with her. However, when he later recalls last night's events the next day, he becomes increasingly fearful and superstitious because a Taoist told him that the people he saw at the temple were ghosts. That night, he returns to the temple to spend his night there and confirms his theory that Nip is actually a spirit... In memory of the late Leslie Cheung, director Ching Siu-tung and producer Ng See-yuen re-released the film in theatres across mainland China on April 30, 2011. According to press release, the film was digitally remastered from the original negatives and six months were spent on the remastering. In addition, premieres took place in both Beijing and Shanghai. Ching Siu-tung, Ng See-yuen and Lau Siu-ming were present. However, Wu Ma and Joey Wong, who were invited, did not attend the premiere. Ching Siu-tung had difficulty tracking down Joey Wong and had to contact her through her family in Taiwan. He received a telephone call at the last minute from Wong's father, stating that the actress was in poor health and not in good condition to attend the premiere. Wong's father also quoted her daughter saying that acting in the film was her best memories. In Chinese cinematography this movie is a classic... even with a really bad animation of some of the scary parts, I could understand that... I enjoyed the good and some really bad acting, but that is acceptable when we understand the concept of this art work and the tradition of Chinese acting which was used in this case in its best and sometimes not its best form. Watch it as a part of a history... it's worth it... but some of you could be disappointed...

some interesting moments, and fun moments make for a entertaining time in this fantasy martial arts horror

This is one of the most pioneer film that beautified Chinese ghost. It became the foundation as a ghost-man love affair classic thereafter. Every character--from the Taoist ghost buster's unforgetable singing, and the comely ghost lady who hides in umbrella; the 1,000 years old tree momo to the weak but kind-hearted bookworm--is simply bravo!

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Film / A Chinese Ghost Story

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A Hong Kong fantasy-horror-comedy film series by Tsui Hark. The original film was released in 1987. It's an adaption of the 1960 Shaw Brothers classic, The Enchanting Shadow , which was based on Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio .

Ning, played by Leslie Cheung , is a timid tax collector living somewhere in Imperial China . His job requires him to travel to rural areas, and this way he arrives at a certain town, but he's broke, so he is forced to seek shelter in a deserted temple in the forest on the outskirts. That night in the temple, Ning meets a beautiful and alluring young maiden called Nie (Joey Wong). However, when he later recalls last night's events the next day, he becomes increasingly fearful and superstitious. It turns out Nie is actually a spirit, enslaved by a Tree Demon who forces her ghosts to kill men. But Ning manages to fall in love with her in the meanwhile, and decides to free her, and to do this enlists the help of Yin, a Taoist priest and wizard and all-round badass.

There were two sequels, released respectively in 1990 and 1991. In the first of them, Ning gets into a political affair which turns out to have a supernatural background. In the second, which is set a century after the first film, two monks stumble upon the same Tree Demon to finish it once for all. There's also an 1997 Animated Adaptation of the first film note  By Triangle Staff and Wang Film Productions , with a more kid-friendly feel note  The Japanese dub cast includes Akira Ishida as Ning and Megumi Hayashibara as Nie . The original got a remake directed by Wilson Yip in 2011, starring Liu Yifei as Nie.

The films include the following tropes:

  • Anachronistic Soundtrack : Part of Yin's introduction have him breaking out in a rap number, with an anachronistic jazz soundtrack blaring in the background. It lasts for an entire minute and is never brought up for the rest of the film.
  • Animesque : The animated adaption.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever : in the second film, we get a gigantic centipede monster.
  • Badass Bureaucrat : Ning, although most of the time it tends to be Badass Unintentional or Mistaken for Badass .
  • Badass Preacher : Yin's a monk, and so are several other characters. Also, the chanting Buddhist monks. Well, actually you better not rub off any monks or priests in the wrong way there — if you're lucky, they'll just kick your ass and not turn out to be huge demonic centipede in disguise.
  • Battle Cry : Altogether, guys: PAO YE PAO LO MI !!!
  • Boy Meets Ghoul : Ning is a human scholar who, after being forced to spend a night in a derelict temple, ends up falling for it's resident ghost girl, Nie.
  • Bittersweet Ending : The first film our hero frees his ghostly lover, but she is apparently reincarnated somewhere else .
  • Body of Bodies : In a variation, the evil demon at the end of the first film has a torso entirely composed of screaming human faces.
  • Brown Note : Buddhist chanting in the second movie - actually coming from aforementioned demonic centipede.
  • Can Only Move the Eyes : In the second movie, the young Kunlun priest gives Ning a special symbol that can freeze anyone and anything. Ning promptly turns it on the priest, then himself , and the very demon they were preparing to face as it's hovering over them. "Move your eyes up-down for 'yes' and left-right for 'no'..." (Ning draws attention towards the demon) "What the hell is 'diagonal' mean?!"
  • Covered in Gunge : In the first movie, Ning and Yin facing the tree demon's tongue .
  • Creepy Centipedes : The Big Bad of the second movie appears to be an incredibly powerful buddhist monk, but is actually a gigantic centipede demon masquerading as a holy man.
  • Creepy Crossdresser : The Tree Demon is a male actor dressed as a woman. Also, it should be noted the Tree Demon speaks with male AND female voice simultaneously .
  • Demonic Possession : In the second movie, after the corpse demon is killed, it takes over Windy's body. Thankfully it doesn't last.
  • Devil, but No God : While Buddhist sutras and statues hold genuine power, it's still the demons who remain dominant in all cases. The second movie even involves a Buddha manifestation that turns out to be fake.
  • Epic Flail : A swordmaster in the second movie carries four swords, as well as a whip he uses to grab and swing all of them at once .
  • The Fool : Ning is practically the archetypal manifestation of this trope, given how many times his life is saved by complete random happenstance. Takes on some of the aspects of The Chew Toy at times, given that whatever is responsible for his luck doesn't seem to care about keeping him happy , just alive.
  • Ghostly Goals : proper burial, but in a rather unusual spin of the trope, it's more to break the Tree Demon's hold than as a goal in itself.
  • Greed : The magistrate in the first film: when he's not acting like a Hanging Judge , he's asking to be paid. When Ning tells him that he'd pay him if he had the money, the magistrate downright orders him to get out and steal money to pay him. When Yin shows up (creating a Mass "Oh, Crap!" ) he cowardly hides under his desk, begging Yin not to rob him because he's poor.
  • Hold the Line : The Taoist Warrior Priest ( Waise Lee ) attempts this in the second movie, fighting agaisnt hordes and hordes of demons all at once.
  • I Am a Humanitarian : Both films have a scene taking place in an Inn of No Return where bandits hide to attack passersby, kill them and cook them.
  • Humongous Mecha : The Tao of Tao in the animated version.
  • Kamehame Hadoken : Yin shoots them like a machine gun, while flying .
  • Kung-Fu Wizard : Yin, and at least one other character. They show both martial arts and magic usually cast by throwing spells written on paper. This gets quite mixed, coming to a climax of fight choreography, flying around from tree to tree, and spellcasting.
  • Legacy Character : In the third movie, Jacky Cheung, who was in the second, plays a completely unrelated character who's taken the name of Yin.
  • Magical Foreign Words : Sanskrit is treated as this.
  • Master of Threads : Nip Siu-sin, the titular ghost, can send lengths of cloth from her white dress flying through the air to catch and restrain people.
  • Misplaced Wildlife : The distinctive yip-yip-howl of a coyote can be heard in the first film's graveyard. The film is set in Ancient China, like what the title said.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting : More like Ominous Buddhist Chanting , the BGM that gets played in the 2nd films that serves as the villain theme song for the Imperial High Monk and his entourage.
  • One-Winged Angel : In the second film. To be honest, the first form was impressive in its own right. In the first movie, the Tree Demon appears as either a menacing human in black, a giant wooden tongue or, in the climax, as a warrior in black with four axes on his back.
  • Overly-Long Tongue : The Tree Demon manifests a flattened, prehensile tongue long enough to fight two or three opponents at once, which gets stabbed several times by the heroes.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different : They pass quite well for a human, and they're enslaved by a demon.
  • From one tale in an ancient Chinese supernatural anthology, Liao Zhai .
  • Exaggerated in the Animesque Animated Adaptation . There's a Humongous Mecha for crying out loud.
  • Prehensile Hair : Ghosts can do this.
  • Reincarnation Romance : In the second film, somehow.
  • Retcon : The third movie takes footage from the first and re-dubs it all to make new plot points.
  • Sky Surfing : on a hover-sword.
  • Stuff Blowing Up : the demons just can't die without blowing up. It's like they're Made of Explodium .
  • To Hell and Back : The climax of the first movie involves the Yin and Ning pretty much storming what looks like the Netherworld to save Nie and slay the evil demons behind it.
  • Unfazed Everyman : Ning. Just some poor schmuck who stumbled upon a paranormal affair. Though, as it appears , he's got surprising guts when a girl's soul is at stake.
  • Weirdness Magnet : Ning, so very, very, very much.
  • When Trees Attack : The Tree Demon, which the main characters have to face for the climactic final battle.
  • Wicked Witch : The Tree Demon.
  • Wuxia : Although The Chinese Ghost Story series has more of a fantasy element than most stories in the wuxia genre.

Alternative Title(s): Chinese Ghost Story

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chinese comedy ghost story

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48 facts about the movie a chinese ghost story.

Amii Irving

Amii Irving

Modified & Updated: 30 Dec 2023

Published: 18 Dec 2023

Modified: 30 Dec 2023


A Chinese Ghost Story is a classic Hong Kong film that has captivated audiences around the world since its release in 1987. Directed by Ching Siu-tung, this supernatural romantic comedy is based on the famous Qing Dynasty novel “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” by Pu Songling. The movie tells the tale of Ning Caichen, a scholar who unwittingly gets entangled in a love triangle with a beautiful ghost named Nie Xiaoqian and a powerful demon named Yan Chixia.

A Chinese Ghost Story is a Hong Kong romantic fantasy film released in 1987.

A Chinese Ghost Story, directed by Ching Siu-tung, is a classic of Hong Kong cinema.

The movie was based on a short story called “The Strange Tale of Nie Xiaoqian” by Pu Songling.

Pu Songling’s collection of supernatural stories served as the inspiration for this captivating film.

A Chinese Ghost Story combines elements of romance, comedy, and horror to create a unique viewing experience.

The movie seamlessly blends different genres, making it a favorite among audiences with diverse tastes.

The film follows the story of a young scholar who falls in love with a ghost and must unravel a dark secret to save her.

The captivating plot keeps viewers on the edge of their seats as they eagerly follow the protagonist’s journey.

A Chinese Ghost Story became a huge commercial success and gained international acclaim.

The film’s popularity rose rapidly, both locally and globally, solidifying its status as a cinematic masterpiece.

The movie’s stunning visuals and unique special effects garnered widespread praise.

A Chinese Ghost Story showcased breathtaking visual effects that set new standards in the industry.

Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong, who played the lead roles, became overnight sensations.

Their performances were highly lauded, and they earned widespread recognition for their portrayal of the complex characters.

The success of A Chinese Ghost Story led to two sequels and multiple adaptations in various forms of media.

The film’s impact extended beyond the silver screen, inspiring new iterations that captured the hearts of fans worldwide.

A Chinese Ghost Story is often regarded as a cult classic in the world of Asian cinema.

The movie has developed a dedicated fanbase who admires its unique storytelling and enduring charm.

The film’s iconic theme song, “Yin Dian,” became a chart-topping hit.

The haunting melody of “Yin Dian” became synonymous with A Chinese Ghost Story, further amplifying its cultural impact.

A Chinese Ghost Story won several prestigious awards, including the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Picture.

The movie’s accolades are a testament to its artistic brilliance and profound impact on the industry.

The success of A Chinese Ghost Story paved the way for more fantasy-themed films in Hong Kong cinema.

The film served as a catalyst for the rise of the fantasy genre, shaping the industry’s future direction.

The movie has achieved a cult following outside of Hong Kong, especially in Western audiences.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s universal themes and captivating storytelling have resonated with film lovers around the globe.

It is often hailed as one of the best movies to come out of Hong Kong’s golden age of cinema.

A Chinese Ghost Story stands as a shining example of the creative brilliance of Hong Kong filmmakers during this era.

The film explores the supernatural world of ghosts, demons, and spirits, intertwined with human desires and emotions.

A Chinese Ghost Story delves into the complexities of the human spirit and the power of love.

The movie’s stunning cinematography transports viewers into a visually enchanting world.

The masterful use of colors and imagery enhances the emotional depth of the story, creating a truly immersive experience.

A Chinese Ghost Story has inspired numerous filmmakers and artists around the world.

The film’s influence can be seen in works that draw inspiration from its captivating narrative and innovative visual style.

The movie’s enduring popularity led to remakes and adaptations in different languages and cultures.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s timeless appeal transcends cultural boundaries, making it a beloved tale across the globe.

A Chinese Ghost Story showcases the rich folklore and mythology of ancient China.

The film’s narrative is deeply rooted in Chinese culture, adding another layer of intrigue and authenticity to the story.

A Chinese Ghost Story is known for its captivating storytelling and memorable characters.

The movie’s well-developed characters leave a lasting impression on audiences, resonating with them long after the film ends.

The film seamlessly combines elements of romance and supernatural, creating a unique blend of genres.

A Chinese Ghost Story demonstrates how different genres can come together to create a cohesive and engaging cinematic experience.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s success inspired a wave of similar ghost-themed movies in the Hong Kong film industry.

The film’s impact reverberated throughout the industry, influencing the production of many subsequent films.

The movie’s atmospheric and haunting soundtrack complements the story perfectly.

The carefully crafted music adds an extra layer of emotion and suspense, enhancing the overall viewing experience.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s popularity led to the creation of a video game adaptation.

Fans of the film were thrilled to embark on their own interactive journey through the enchanting world of A Chinese Ghost Story.

The movie’s success marked a turning point in the career of director Ching Siu-tung.

A Chinese Ghost Story solidified Ching Siu-tung’s reputation as a visionary filmmaker, opening doors to further creative endeavors.

The film is renowned for its memorable quotes, which have become iconic in popular culture.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s quotable lines have permeated everyday conversations and are often referenced in various media.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s legacy continues to grow as new generations discover and appreciate its timeless storytelling.

The film’s enduring appeal speaks to its lasting impact on the cinematic landscape.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s success led to the revival of the Hong Kong film industry in the late 1980s.

The film’s box office triumph invigorated the industry, sparking a wave of creativity and innovation among filmmakers.

The movie expertly captures the essence of Chinese folklore and mythology.

A Chinese Ghost Story serves as a window into the rich cultural heritage of China, captivating viewers with its mythical tales.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s mesmerizing visuals and stunning set designs transport audiences to another world.

The film’s attention to detail creates a vivid and immersive experience that sweeps viewers off their feet.

The movie’s success opened doors for Hong Kong cinema to gain international recognition.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s popularity helped raise the profile of Hong Kong films in global markets, paving the way for future successes.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption resonate with audiences of all ages.

The timeless themes explored in the film strike a deep emotional chord with viewers, making it a cherished favorite.

The movie’s intricate plot twists and turns keep viewers guessing until the very end.

A Chinese Ghost Story surprises audiences with its unexpected revelations, keeping them engaged throughout the entire film.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s success prompted a wave of interest in Chinese cinema worldwide.

The film’s international acclaim sparked curiosity about Chinese storytelling and filmmaking traditions.

The movie blends elements of Chinese history and folklore with a modern sensibility.

A Chinese Ghost Story bridges the gap between tradition and contemporary storytelling, appealing to a broad audience.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s memorable characters have become cultural icons in their own right.

The characters’ enduring popularity has inspired fan art, cosplay, and tributes across various platforms.

The film’s special effects revolutionized the Hong Kong film industry, setting new standards for visual storytelling.

A Chinese Ghost Story raised the bar for special effects, influencing future productions in the industry.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s success led to the creation of an animated television series based on the film.

Fans could once again immerse themselves in the captivating world of A Chinese Ghost Story through the animated adaptation.

The movie’s exploration of the allure and danger of forbidden love struck a chord with audiences around the world.

A Chinese Ghost Story delves into the complexities of relationships and the sacrifices we make for love.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s enchanting score adds depth and emotion to the film’s narrative.

The haunting melodies woven throughout the movie enhance the storytelling, eliciting a range of emotions from the audience.

The film’s stunning fight sequences showcase the prowess of Hong Kong action choreography.

A Chinese Ghost Story presents graceful and exhilarating fight scenes that have become emblematic of the genre.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s timeless story continues to inspire adaptations and reinterpretations in different artistic mediums.

The film’s enduring impact serves as a testament to its universal themes and compelling storytelling.

The movie’s success led to a surge in foreign interest in Hong Kong cinema during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A Chinese Ghost Story captivated international audiences, sparking curiosity about the vibrant film industry in Hong Kong.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s themes of spirituality and the supernatural resonate with audiences of all backgrounds.

The film explores universal truths and the power of human connection, appealing to a wide range of viewers.

The movie’s intricate set designs and costumes bring the world of A Chinese Ghost Story to life.

The attention to detail in the film’s production design adds depth and authenticity to the story being told.

A Chinese Ghost Story’s legacy is celebrated through film screenings, fan events, and retrospective exhibitions.

Fans and enthusiasts continue to gather to honor the impact and enduring charm of A Chinese Ghost Story.

The movie’s success paved the way for increased collaboration between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese filmmakers.

A Chinese Ghost Story sparked a renewed interest in cross-border collaborations, leading to significant developments in the industry.

A Chinese Ghost Story remains a beloved film that has captured the hearts of generations.

This beloved cinematic gem continues to enchant audiences with its timeless tale of love, ghosts, and supernatural intrigue.

In conclusion, A Chinese Ghost Story is a classic movie that has captivated audiences worldwide with its unique blend of romance, comedy, and supernatural elements. With its stunning visuals, memorable characters, and engaging storyline, it has stood the test of time and remains a beloved film among movie enthusiasts. Whether you’re a fan of Chinese cinema or simply looking for a captivating and enchanting movie experience, A Chinese Ghost Story is definitely worth watching. So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and prepare to be transported into a world filled with love, adventure, and otherworldly encounters.

Q: Is A Chinese Ghost Story based on a true story?

A: No, A Chinese Ghost Story is not based on a true story. It is a fictional tale that draws inspiration from traditional Chinese folklore and ghost stories.

Q: What is the genre of A Chinese Ghost Story?

A: A Chinese Ghost Story is a romantic fantasy film with elements of comedy and supernatural horror.

Q: Are there any sequels or remakes of A Chinese Ghost Story?

A: Yes, A Chinese Ghost Story has spawned several sequels and remakes over the years, showcasing its enduring popularity and influence in the film industry.

Q: Who are the main actors in A Chinese Ghost Story?

A: The main actors in A Chinese Ghost Story are Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong, and Wu Ma, who deliver stellar performances and bring their characters to life.

Q: Is A Chinese Ghost Story suitable for all age groups?

A: While A Chinese Ghost Story is generally considered suitable for most audiences, it does contain some intense scenes and supernatural elements that may scare younger viewers. Parental guidance is advised.

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A Chinese Ghost Story II

Leslie Cheung and Joey Wang in A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990)

A Chinese Ghost Story II Chinese 倩女幽魂 II人間道 is a 1990 Hong Kong romantic comedy-horror film directed by Ching Siu-tung and produced by Tsui Hark. It is the sequel to A Chinese Ghost Story an... Read all A Chinese Ghost Story II Chinese 倩女幽魂 II人間道 is a 1990 Hong Kong romantic comedy-horror film directed by Ching Siu-tung and produced by Tsui Hark. It is the sequel to A Chinese Ghost Story and is followed by A Chinese Ghost Story III. A Chinese Ghost Story II Chinese 倩女幽魂 II人間道 is a 1990 Hong Kong romantic comedy-horror film directed by Ching Siu-tung and produced by Tsui Hark. It is the sequel to A Chinese Ghost Story and is followed by A Chinese Ghost Story III.

  • Siu-Tung Ching
  • Tai-Mok Lau
  • Leslie Cheung
  • Michelle Reis
  • 20 User reviews
  • 14 Critic reviews
  • 1 win & 6 nominations

Leslie Cheung and Joey Wang in A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990)

  • Ling Choi San

Joey Wang

  • Ching Fung …

Michelle Reis

  • Yin Chek Hsia …

Siu-Ming Lau

  • Lord Fu Tin Chau

Waise Lee

  • Swordsman Hu

Feng Ku

  • High Priest

Siu-Chun To

  • High Priest's Disciple

Ching-Ching Yeung

  • Bounty Hunter

Johnny Koo

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Kai-Man Tin

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  • Production, box office & more at IMDbPro

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A Chinese Ghost Story III

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  • Connections Edited from A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

User reviews 20

  • HumanoidOfFlesh
  • Nov 19, 2001
  • How long is A Chinese Ghost Story II? Powered by Alexa
  • July 13, 1990 (Hong Kong)
  • Thieu Nu U Hon II Nhan Gian Dao
  • Golden Harvest Company
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  • Runtime 1 hour 44 minutes

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Kung-fu Kingdom

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

A Chinese Ghost Story

Romantic comedy horror film starring Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong and Wu Ma, directed by Ching Siu-tung and produced by Tsui Hark. The plot was loosely based on a short story from Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling’s “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio”, and also inspired by the 1960 Shaw Brothers Studio film “The Enchanting Shadow”.

Leslie Cheung stars as “Ling Choi-san”, a debt collector who falls in love with a beautiful ghost. A Hong Kong singer, actor and film producer, he is considered as “one of the founding fathers of Cantopop”. He is probably best remembered for his breakthrough role in John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow”, and achieved great acclaim for his performances in “Rouge”, and Wong Kar-Wai’s “Days of Being Wild”. He sadly took his own life in 2003 aged just 46 years old. He left a suicide note saying that he had been suffering from depression.

Joey Wong plays “Nip Siu-sin”, a ghostly spirit that is forced to lure young men to their death for the Tree Demon. Originally from Taiwan, her success in this film led to her becoming something of an idol, especially in Japan and South Korea. She would go on to appear in Jackie Chan’s “City Hunter”, “Butterfly and Sword”, “The Banquet” and two sequels to “A Chinese Ghost Story”.

Veteran character actor Wu Ma stars as “Yin Chik-ha”, a Taoist warrior priest that hunts ghosts. Wu Ma made his screen debut in 1963, and with over 240 appearances to his name (plus 49 directorial credits within a fifty-year period), he was one of the most familiar faces in the history of Hong Kong Cinema. Martial arts fans will recognise him from films such as “ The Prodigal Son “, “ Encounters of the Spooky Kind “, “ Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars ” and “ Mr Vampire “, to name just a tiny few.

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Lau Siu-ming is in drag as “The Tree Demon”, an evil spirit that forces Nip Siu-sin to lure men so as to feed on their life force. Lau Sing-Ming is a respected veteran actor and a pioneer in Hong Kong dance. As a youngster, Lau received a scholarship to study ballet in France and work with some of the top dancers in the world. He went on to become the first Chinese dance choreographer in France and a founding member of the Hong Kong Dance Federation. Often working for Tsui Hark he has appeared in “Royal Warriors”, “Righting Wrongs”, “A Better Tomorrow II”, “Swordsman” and “ Fearless “.

Ling Choi-san is an ineffectual young tax collector. As such, nobody will offer him a bed for the night, so he is forced to seek shelter at a reputedly haunted temple on the outskirts of town. There he meets the warrior monk Yin Chik-ha and the beautiful Nip Siu-sin.

Ling falls in love with her, unaware that she is a ghost sent forth by an evil demon to tempt men and steal their lifeforce. Revealing her fate to Ling Choi-san, Nip tells him her story of how she became eternally bound to the servitude of a sinister Tree Demon. She explains that as long as her remains are buried at the foot of the tree, her spirit will be forever enslaved by the Tree Demon.

Desperate to rescue Nip, Ling insists that Yin help him. Yin manages to open a temporary portal to the Underworld. Ling and Yin journey to the Underworld where they attempt to free Nip’s soul.

A short introductory scene sets the tone for what is to come in terms of action, with flashing blades, beheadings and fast edits.

Wu Ma’s first battle is a night time duel. The choreography is fast and fluid, with lots of spinning and twirling, sometimes on wires. A wind machine is used to blow fallen leaves across the screen, adding atmosphere and energy to the scene.

Our first view of the supernatural action comes with Joey Wong seducing a vulnerable swordsman in the woods. Using a combination of “Evil Dead” style camera work and old-school practical effects, the swordsman meets a grisly end.

Wu Ma encounters Joey Wong’s spirit in the woods and a flying battle through the trees ensues. Beautifully lit in its night time setting, the choreography is heavily reliant on the use of wires. However, whereas this can occasionally appear over-the-top in movies such as “Butterfly and Sword”, here it adds to the supernatural setting of this tale.

The undead in this film are much creepier than the usual hopping vampires, looking like drained skeletal corpses, not unlike the ghostly forms taken by the cursed pirates in the “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”. Using a mixture of actors in make up and stop-motion animation, they menacingly stagger after their prey.

In a bizarre but very entertaining sequence, Wu Ma performs a Jianshu (straight sword) routine whilst singing a rap version of “The Way”, a Taoist song! The high technical skill of the practical effects team is put to good use in a set-piece where a giant tongue tries to devour Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong in a wooden house. As our leads try to escape the creepy, malevolent tongue, leaves and debris from the splintering wood swirl and swoop around them. When Wu Ma faces the Tree Demon, the fantasy action-choreography gives the audience plenty of “gross-out” moments, as the giant tongue splatters slimy goo in the faces of the heroes.

The final battle in the underworld is both atmospheric and energetic. Dozens of arms punch through dusty walls grabbing at the smitten lovers, whilst Wu Ma battles ghostly warriors with his martial arts and bow and arrows. Shot in a virtually empty, blacked out studio, the low camera angles and lighting of the smoky background give the underworld setting an appropriately eerie ambiance.

If “Encounters of the Spooky Kind” re-invigorated the Chinese horror comedy genre in the 1980’s, and the “Mr Vampire” movies defined it, then “A Chinese Ghost Story” gave it its heart.

Amidst the craziness of the supernatural goings-on, simplistic comedy and physics-defying action, there is a tender love story, beautifully told in the performances of Joey Wong and Leslie Cheung.

Wu Ma arguably gives one of the best performances of his prolific career, in a rare role as the action lead. Even though much of the film takes place at night, it is still very well lit and shot. The director uses all sorts of camera techniques and “Dutch Angles” (camera tilts), creating a unique look, that would be copied by many of the Chinese fantasy films that were to follow it. Whereas “Encounters of the Spooky Kind” focused on traditional martial arts action, and “Mr Vampire” primarily used slapstick comedy, “A Chinese Ghost Story” presents the action in a highly stylised, hyperreal fashion.

The use of wires and swordplay choreography would feature heavily in director Ching Siu-tung’s later work on movies such as “The Swordsman” series, “ New Dragon Gate Inn “, “ Hero ” and “ House of Flying Daggers “, and influenced many other similar films. It is easy to understand why this film was a success on the international festival circuit and is considered a masterpiece of modern Chinese cinema. In its day, and even now, it has an incredible look to it.

For martial arts purists who don’t mind wire-work, the action in Ching Siu-tung’s later works, or even something like “ Iron Monkey ” starring Donnie Yen , would probably be more satisfying. But if you want to watch a unique, atmospheric and highly-influential Chinese film, “A Chinese Ghost Story” is a must-see for fans of Asian cinema.

  • Lead actor Leslie Cheung spoke fluent English having studied at Leeds University in the UK.
  • In 1997 Tsui Hark wrote and produced an animated version of “A Chinese Ghost Story”.
  • At the 7th Hong Kong Film Awards, the film received nominations for Best Action Choreography, Best Actress for Joey Wong, Best Supporting Actor for Wu Ma, Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. It won awards for Best Art Direction, Best Original Score and Best Original Song.
  • Director Ching Siu-tung, who had been trained in Peking opera as a child, made his directorial debut in 1982 with the ground-breaking wuxia classic “Duel to the Death”. The action choreography redefined how Chinese swordplay movies were made.
  • The plot was taken from “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” or “Liaozhai Zhiyi”, a collection of nearly 500 mostly supernatural tales written by Pu Songling during the early Qing dynasty.
  • The film was remade in 2011 directed by Wilson Yip ( SPL: Sha Po Lang/Kill Zone , Dragon Tiger Gate, Flash Point and Ip Man trilogy), and starring Louis Koo, Liu Yifei, Yu Shaoqun, Kara Hui, Louis Fan, and Wang Danyi Li.

Film Rating: 7.5/10


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Glen Stanway

Influenced by the movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Glen began training in martial arts and gymnastics in 1995. He made his first of many visits to Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 to learn Chin Woo kung fu under the supervision of Master Teng Wie Yoo. Glen is the author of "The Art of Coaching" and "Fearless The Story of Chin Woo Kung Fu", and runs a kung fu & kickboxing school in Hertfordshire, England.

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Peter’s Kung Fu Corner: A Chinese Ghost Story

Peter Glagowski

[Welcome to Peter’s Kung Fu Corner : a monthly column dedicated to retrospectives on the martial arts films I grew up watching. We’ll be covering all kinds of Hong Kong action films from Bruce Lee all the way to Joseph Kuo. Get ready to be introduced to some weird, wacky, and utterly badass films.]

This being the second year of me writing monthly kung fu columns, I wanted to make it a tradition to talk about spooky films in October. Halloween is kind of a nothing holiday, but it does put a spotlight on the otherwise overlooked horror genre. With Halloween Kills making up a huge bulk of the discussion this year, why don’t we instead focus on one of the most overlooked Hong Kong horror films I can think of? Mr. Vampire might be a stone-cold classic, but I’m absolutely in love with A Chinese Ghost Story .

The very first film I saw with the legendary Leslie Cheung, A Chinese Ghost Story might seem esoteric to those not familiar with Hong Kong action. Taking more inspiration from the wuxia genre than kung fu, it does nothing to familiarize its viewers with Chinese folklore surrounding the undead and ghosts. If you’re unaware of how those things work, you might view the film as overly goofy and nonsensical. Despite that, the very core of the movie doesn’t rely too heavily on these concepts to weave its tale.

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) Original Trailer [FHD]

Beginning with a breathtaking scene where a man and woman are getting busy with each other, the mood quickly turns sinister as some off-screen threat devours the man. We then shift to our main hero, Ning Choi-San (Cheung), wandering through the countryside on an uncertain mission. Accompanied to a rather poetic song sung by Cheung, it does everything to set the tone for the film. While certainly something of a darker tale, this film isn’t without comedy of both the visual and slapstick variety.

Choi-San is a debt collector that is rather inefficient at his job. His journey leads him to a rural town where he needs to gather money from a restaurant owner. With some earlier rain having ruined his ledger, Choi-San is shooed out of the building and is forced to find refuge somewhere that is cheap…preferably free. This leads him on a course towards Orchid Temple, a famously haunted building that no one returns from alive.

During all of this, Cheung gives a performance that is utterly enchanting. Completely committed to his role, he really does sell the idea that Choi-San is a bumbling fool with a kind heart. Absolutely unmotivated by a desire for riches, Choi-San does his best to reason with the restaurant owner and even talks to a few of the locals about their plight. The funniest bit, however, comes when he learns of Orchid Temple. All of the citizens suddenly stop and listen intently before turning their backs when Choi-San looks behind him. It continues a few times and almost looks like a Simpsons gag (though, curiously, this film would release a few years before the eternal show).

A Chinese Ghost Story

Via: Film Workshop

With no real alternative, Choi-San makes the trek through the woods to this mysterious temple and barely makes it through with his life. When he does eventually reach its doors, he stumbles into a battle between a Taoist priest named Yin-Chik-Ha (Wu Ma) and a longtime rival. After coming to a stalemate and nearly skewering Choi-San, our hero gives some words of encouragement to lay down weapons and fight the evils of this world with love. Certainly, a bit melodramatic, but it foreshadows what is to come next.

Yin reluctantly lets Choi-San stay at the temple, but warns him that things aren’t what they seem. Not particularly interested in Yin’s story, Choi-San gets ready for sleep before he hears a hauntingly beautiful voice coming from the distance. Following it to a secluded hut on the river, we get reacquainted with the lovely woman from the beginning of the film that had sent a man to his death. Revealed to be Nieh Hsiao-Chien (Joey Wong), Choi-San is unaware of her existence as a ghost.

As we eventually learn, Hsiao-Chien has been cursed with stealing the souls of men to feed a powerful deity known as the Old Evil (Lau Siu-Ming). Initially, she assumes Choi-San will be lustful and handsy like everyone else, but he shows a completely different side to humanity than Hsiao-Chien has ever seen. Lured more by her voice than her beauty, he asks questions about her origin and wonders if she needs help finding shelter. He also rebukes her advances, leading her to realize this man is innocent.

A Chinese Ghost Story

Not wishing to lure him to his death, she sends him off and tells him never to return. With that, we now have the inciting incident for Choi-San’s struggle that will see him fall in love with this heavenly ghost. Yeah, A Chinese Ghost Story is actually a romantic comedy. Go figure.

I won’t recap the rest of the plot as you absolutely should watch this film, but there’s more to talk about than simply plotline and character development. The thing that always stuck with me over the years is how ridiculously beautiful this movie is. Produced by the legendary Tsui Hark (who would later go on to direct Once Upon a Time in China ), A Chinese Ghost Story looks like a painting in practically every scene. There is a tremendous amount of production put into even the smallest things with lots of dust and papers flying when moments get intense and close-ups used to punctuate the intimacy that Choi-San and Hsiao-Chien feel with each other.

Accompanying this visual feast is an absolutely outstanding soundtrack. Composed by Romero Diaz and James Wong, you could say that music does the heavy lifting for propelling this film beyond simply being good into an all-time classic. Mixing traditional Chinese instruments with synthesizers, the sound is unlike anything heard in its era. At times, I get flashbacks to the N64 era and Nintendo’s wacky sound chip on that platform. It has a calming vibe when called for and a bombastic one when the action picks up.

chinese comedy ghost story

There isn’t much in the way of action throughout the film, but the finale does cap things off with a large-scale battle. As I said before, A Chinese Ghost Story is more of a wuxia film, so you can expect sword fighting and lots of flying around. With the plot handling supernatural elements, any pretense of reality is thrown out the window. We’re given moments where Yin will be blasting beams out of his hands and heads will roll across the ground after being sliced off. It’s wild but certainly fits the campy atmosphere on display.

It all feeds into the comedy, as well. This was the one thing I forgot over the years as the general atmosphere is what keeps A Chinese Ghost Story in my memories. I’m drawn in by the mystique and captivated by the love story, but the comedy makes the moments between brawls and exposition go by briskly. It sometimes leans into toilet humor, but it never fails to remind you that real life can be stranger than fiction. We, as humans, can go from being vicious to stupid at the drop of a dime. More than anything, that range of emotions is what makes us who we are.

As I write this out, I also realize that is probably an intentional reading of the material. The plot eventually reveals that Hsiao-Chien wishes to become human again and free herself from the servitude of the Old Evil. On the other hand, Yin’s destructive existence hunting ghosts has made him desire to be dead and wander the afterlife. Due to their experiences, the two characters are basically the Yin and Yang of each other and it takes the kind heart of Choi-San to pull them out of their misery.

chinese comedy ghost story

I could be off base here, but without being a true scholar of Chinese folklore, I can only make assumptions. Even if my reading is wrong, I can tell you with certainty that A Chinese Ghost Story is an absolute classic. It definitely has a few areas where some editing could help -such as having a real conclusion-, but it’s no surprise that the success of this movie led to a duo of sequels, an animated series, and a remake in 2011 that completely misses the point. You can actually watch that remake on Netflix, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Ed Note: As it so happens, the remake was removed from Netflix a day or so before I wrote this. Go figure. You still shouldn’t watch it.)

None of those follow-ups can really compare to the original, but I can’t blame director Ching Siu-Tung from trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle. Decades later, I’m still utterly enchanted by what this film is and how it progresses. Unlike any film I’ve covered in this column before, it remains unique despite how influential it went on to be.

We may never have another film like A Chinese Ghost Story , but that’s okay. Sometimes when the stars align perfectly, you get a classic like this that lives on well beyond its time. It’s a shame the movie isn’t more readily available, but I implore everyone to seek it out in some fashion. If you have the means, you won’t regret taking the time to check this out.

If you’d like to read more of Peter’s Kung Fu Corner, you can do so by clicking here .

Peter Glagowski

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chinese comedy ghost story

The Long List of Chinese Ghost Stories and Ghoulish Creatures

Deadly demons, friendly fiends, mythical monsters and saucy spooks from chinese lore to round out your halloween bestiary.

chinese comedy ghost story

There’s a rich history of Chinese ghosts — as many as 1,520 spirits have been compiled.

To celebrate the global love of ghosties and ghoulies, here is a collection of 33 creatures, spirits and demons from across Chinese folklore.

Deadly Demons

A Chinese monster of folklore that causes drought, believed to come from hundred-day-old corpses that don’t decompose, and rise from the earth as Jiangshi (literally “stiff corpse,” or Chinese zombies). Digging up, beating and burning Jiangshi were popular folk customs during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) eras, usually from moist graves in drought areas. This custom continued in areas of Shandong up til the 1960s and features in the Shi Jing , China’s first anthology of poetry compiled by Confucius in the 6 th to 5 th centuries BCE. In Han mythology, Han Ba is believed to be Pa, the drought fury, the daughter that Huang Di summoned to help him defeat his archenemy Chi You. Pa refused to return to her caves in the mountains and instead wanders the earth.

独角鬼王 Du Jiao Gui Wang

His name literally means “Singled Horned Demon King.” A very powerful demon whose demonic essence is concentrated in his horn, which is said to be so powerful that no one really knows what it’s capable of. The Chinese literary classic Journey to the West features Du Jiao Gui Wang as a friend to Sun Wukong, the Monkey King . In his early years, the young monkey spirit, whose mere existence challenges the boundaries between the worlds of gods and demons, befriended many demons. Later, in his role as protector of Xuanzang at the behest of the gods, some of his demon friends still came to his aid, when he needed assistance on their long and hazardous pilgrimage.

The Many Faces of the Monkey King: How the Legend of Sun Wukong Lives on in Popular Culture Behind the magic is a monkey whose stories of adventure and transformation resonate with audiences of all cultures Article Jan 27, 2020

刀劳鬼 Dao Lao Gui

This Chinese demon lives in the mountains, likes to roar in the wind and rain, and shoots poisonous darts. Venom from the male demon kills instantly, while that from the female induces swelling and lengthens the agony of death. The dart of Dao Lao Gui means certain death within a day, unless treated promptly. The demon was documented in Soushen Ji , and still frequents many contemporary video games.

猙獰 Zheng Ning

An ancient horned beast with five tails and the body of a leopard. Very ferocious. The male is called Zheng and the female Ning. The ferocity of the Zheng Ning became so well known that it lent its name to the adjective zheng ning , meaning “malevolent, fierce, sinister.” Modern interpretations of the Chinese monster have really picked up on these aspects.

山魈 Shan Xiao

A monster that lives in the mountains. With large teeth and covered in fur, it is super strong and can tear lions and tigers apart with its bare hands. It has a habit of visiting abandoned homes and country dwellings, and is famously depicted on such an occasion in an encounter with a terrified scholar in Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio . Shan Xiao come in many guises, sometimes in their true form, other times as irresistible sirens. They like to hurl stones at travelers, lead them astray, and occasionally eat them.

China’s Ghostwriter: The True Story Behind Jackie Chan’s New Movie “Knight of Shadows” In an upcoming blockbuster, Jackie Chan plays Pu Songling as a magical monster slayer, but Pu Songling's real story is just as fascinating. Meet China's most famous folklorist Article Jan 11, 2019

膏肓鬼 Gao Huang Gui

This ghost lives in the body, in the area between the heart and the diaphragm. It inspires ill thoughts and causes physical illness. It also inspired the Chinese idiom xin zhong you gui , (心中有鬼; literally “to have a demon in one’s heart”), meaning to have dubious intentions.

This Chinese ghost lives in the human abdomen, whispering to victims and causing extreme pain in their internal organs, followed by death. As both live in the body and their victims rarely survive, the appearance the Gao Huang Gui and Fu Gui remain a mystery.

狍鸮 Pao Xiao, aka 饕餮 Tao Tie

A monster with a human face, goat body, tiger teeth and eyes near its armpits. It eats humans and likes to lure its prey with infant-like cries. Upon seeing one, it’s best to run, no use walking round its back. Tao Tie is also a Chinese adjective for “gluttonous.” Hoards of these monsters starred in Zhang Yimou’s controversial film The Great Wall (2016).

chinese comedy ghost story

Cat ghosts, or maogui , are believed to be the ghosts of cats raised from the dead to take their targets’ lives and fortunes via gudu rituals (similar to voodoo magic in their application). These rituals were popular in the 6th and 7th centuries CE. Once targeted, the victim was said to feel as if pierced by needles, before maogui would eventually consume their organs. Many cats were apparently sacrificed during the Sui (581-618 CE) era, so the actions of maogui can be seen as revenge for cat-kind.

In contemporary Chinese RPG imagery, maogui are often interpreted as deceptively cute kittens, while an interpretation of maogui also serves as inspiration for the 2017 fantasy film Legend of the Demon Cat by renowned director Chen Kaige.

Friendly Fiends

树精 shu jing.

Spirits of trees that are hundreds of years old, which are believed to be rainmakers and guardian protectors with healing powers in their leaves and flowers. The leader among plant spirits, the Shu Jing enjoy tributes of food and drink. Old trees are very much venerated in China — it is said that if they are cut, they would bleed. The Shu Jing should not be confused with Pu Songling’s tree demons, depicted famously in Cheng Xiaodong’s film A Chinese Ghost Story .

狐鬼/狐仙 Hu Gui or Hu Xian

Believed to be spirits of deceased foxes that lie unburied. They like to reside in plates, bowls and other domestic objects. These are friendly ghosts, and not to be confused with fox demons. The benign spirits of animals such as weasels, foxes and raccoons (sometimes referred to as Wu Xian, the Five Spirits) were venerated in many places around China. Hu Xian has been the subject of many great stories in Chinese literature, such as the Jin dynasty collection of supernatural phenomena by Gan Bao (286-336), the Soushen Ji and Pu Songling’s 19 th -century compilation Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio .

A Quick, Spoiler-Free Guide to the Chinese Spirit in Netflix’s “Love, Death & Robots” Netflix's much-buzzed animated series features a Chinese fox spirit who has been a feature of storytelling for centuries Article Mar 28, 2019

舟幽灵 Zhou You Ling

Their name literally means “boat apparitions.” These are souls of the drowned, said to be active at a beach in Hainan called the Weeping Ghost. Seen by those out at sea from their boats, they appear on the crest of waves and are believed to portend danger and disaster. Otherwise, they are mostly harmless. People out sailing who see them usually feed them rice, turn their ships and head back to shore, grateful for the warning.

落头氏 Luo Tou Shi

chinese comedy ghost story

These are beings whose heads can detach themselves from their bodies, fly away and wander around while they are asleep, flapping their ears like wings. It’s vital not to cover the neck while they’re wandering, or the head will be unable to re-attach itself upon return, causing both head and body to perish. According to texts of the Jin (265-420 CE) era, these beings were a race that lived in the southern lands, where some insects were rumored to also have head-detaching abilities.

The far southern regions of China — known as the Lingnan regions, now known as Guangdong and Guangxi — were only accessible once Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) roads were built through the hitherto impenetrable Nan Mountains. This isolation helped create China’s historical fascination with the exoticism of the far south.

The Chinese tiger god is a friendly and whimsical being who sometimes appears in human form, other times in a human body with a tiger’s head. Hu Shen likes to tap people on the shoulders from the back and converse with them. Friendly yet powerful, Hu Shen can command tigers. If you’re lost in the woods and run into this being, you’re in luck. He likes to guide lost travelers through woods and forests.

黑白无常 Hei Bai Wuchang

These Chinese ghouls were believed to be the ghosts of a pair of friends who were chums in death as they were in life. They were given the task of hunting stray souls by Yan Wang, king of the underworld. There has been, and still is, much love for this pair of ghoulish helpers in Chinese pop culture and in ceremonies around areas such as Fujian. If you’d like to read more about them, see my previous article on Hei Bai Wuchang here .

Halloween Special: Hunting for Spirits in Fengdu’s Ghost City Article Oct 29, 2018

秃尾巴李黑 Tu Wei Ba Li Hei

Tailless Black Li is a black dragon without a tail and is known as the banisher of floods, venerated in northeastern-most China. Legend says that this black dragon was born into a family with the name of Li. When he transformed into a dragon, many feared that he was a monster, and cut off his tail. But Li Hei still loved his homeland very much. When the white dragon brought on the floods, he subdued them. The villagers severely regretted how they had treated Li Hei, so they named their province Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River). The Bai minority in Yunnan have a similar myth that involves a dragon pearl and a little yellow dragon.

Fierce protector gods who devour ghosts and demons. They come in multitudes. Some live in the human world, others in the heavens. Due to their demon-like appearance, they have often been seen as such in pop culture — vampiric, women-snatching, haunters of the wilderness. The female Ye Cha are generally much better-looking. There are depictions of friendly Ye Cha, such Pu Songling’s account in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio . These creatures are popular with tattooists and also lend their name to a Chinese metalcore band.

Gorgeous Ghosts

姑获鸟 gu huo niao.

A bird demon that can shed its feathers and turn into a beautiful woman. Her favorite hobby is to snatch children at night. In the old days, children’s laundry had to be taken in before nighttime, to prevent the demon from dotting the clothes with blood to mark her prey. Gu Huo Niao has graced the pages of classical and modern Chinese literature, and continues to haunt computer games not only from China but also Southeast Asia.

画皮鬼 Hua Pi Gui

chinese comedy ghost story

With a name that literally means “painted skin ghost,” these beings are green in appearance with big, gnashing teeth. This Chinese ghost eats humans at night and wear their victims’ skins by day, usually appearing as very beautiful women. They are believed to be the spirits of women that were horribly wronged during their lives, and remained trapped in bones for hundreds of years after their corpses decayed, which is why they look for skins to move around in.

Immortalized by Pu Songling in the anthology Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio , hua pi gui have since enjoyed TV and film adaptations for generations within China, and had a lead role in the globally released Painted Skin I and II . Hell hath no fury!

画中仙 Hua Zhong Xian

An immortal who lives in a painting and is tied to the painting by the capturing of her image. Sometimes it’s a spirit or ghost in hiding that has possessed the painting. Usually female, she falls for the scholar who stands in front of the painting day and night, besotted by her image. At the end of the story, she is often obligated to return to the painting, causing it to change. She is a popular literary and cinematic plot device employed in classical as well as modern works.

白骨精 Bai Gu Jing

The White Bone Spirit is really a pile of bones from an ancient female corpse. She can transform into her original living form, which is beautiful. She is both deadly and wily, and knows the human heart. Bai Gu Jing lives in her cave with her demon minions, and remains one of best-loved demons in Journey to the West . There are various designs of her appearance, as seen on film and TV since China’s classic TV dramatization of the novel in the 1980s, which are excellent illustrations of the Chinese gothic. More recent adaptations, such as Zhang Jizhong’s 2011 TV series , have treated her with more sympathy by providing her with a harrowing backstory.

Mythical Monsters

九头鸟 jiu tou niao.

chinese comedy ghost story

This nine-headed bird is an inauspicious being in ethnic Han myths. It was said to have had ten heads originally, but one was cut off by a hunter on the orders of Zhou Gongdan, a politician and thinker of the Western Zhou (10th to 8th centuries BCE) dynasty. With blood gushing from its headless neck, the jiu tou niao sucks out the spirit energy of children. In the old days, during the time the bird was believed to appear, lights were extinguished very early and dogs sent out. The jiu tou nao is well documented in texts of the Tang and Song dynasties.

Named after its distinctive cry, this giant crane-like bird is believed to cause, or be the harbinger of, fires. Its myth was first documented in the Classic of Mountains and Seas . Some versions say that Bi Fang stole fire from the heavens and gifted it to humans.

A bird shaped like a magpie with two heads and four claws, believed to have the ability to put out fires. Venerated in households in some regions of China, the Lei is both male and female. At the sight of a fire, it would flap its giant, magnificent wings, and the flames would be extinguished.

A Chinese plague monster with the body of a bull, a snake’s tail, and a third eye on its head. It lives on the Taishan Mountains and has been documented in the Classic of Mountains and Seas. Where the Fei appears, rivers and marshes dry up, grass and trees wither, and plagues spread. Considering the similarity of the Fei’s appearance to Pantyhose Taro in the manga Ranma ½ , I wonder if someone from China had drowned in Níuhèmànmáorénnìquán (the so-called “Spring of the Drowned”)?

Halloween in China: Quick Money, Fun Parties, and Chinese vs Western Traditions Article Oct 26, 2018

肥遗鸟 Fei Yi Niao

A bird the size of a quail, with yellow fur and a red beak. Its flesh can cure plagues and parasites.

鳖幽灵 Bie You Ling

This is just one of the many kinds of turtle spirits in Chinese mythology. She is a temptress with a beautiful upper body and the lower body of a turtle. It’s a mystery whether she’s friendly or malevolent, as those who glimpsed her true form have tended to run away.

A very wise Chinese creature that could speak the language of humans and understand the secrets of all things and every being. It is said that the legendary emperor Huang Di caught it on his travels, and implored it to record the shapes and forms of all existing demons and ghosts. Bai Ze drew and wrote about everything it had found on a scroll called the Bai Ze Tu . This is how people came to recognize and keep themselves safe from different ghosts and demons.

Saucy Spooks

黄父鬼 huang fu gui.

Said to be active around Hubei. A shape shifter that appears as mist, beasts or people, and likes yellow clothes. He is lecherous, lives on a diet of other ghosts, laughs hideously at those he dislikes, causing death or injure in its victims. Huang Fu Gui is documented in early Chinese mythology, in the 3 rd century BCE to 1 st century CE Classic of Mountains and Seas and texts of the Song dynasty.

吊靴鬼 Diao Xue Gui

Its name literally means “hanging on boots ghost.” This Chinese ghost likes to follow people around at night and play mischievous pranks behind them. So if you’re walking down a quiet alley at night, and you hear strange noises, or feel a creepy breeze on your neck, you might have a Diao Xue Gui at your heels. If you swing round, you won’t find it. Interestingly, in colloquial Cantonese, the term Diao Xue Gui refers to stalkers.

僵尸 Jiangshi

chinese comedy ghost story

Any compilation of Chinese ghosts and demons would not be complete without China’s ultimate monster, the jiangshi . Originating in rural tales of the strange, these “Chinese zombies” have become horror and pop culture fixtures in China and elsewhere in Asia. Jiangshi are typically depicted in the wardrobe of a Qing dynasty official, with a binding spell attached to their hats, and hop around due to the stiffness of rigor mortis.

Read more about jiangshi here and here .

Here’s a Playlist of Terrifying Tunes to Get You in the Mood for Halloween Freak out with our collection of scarily good songs Article Oct 23, 2020

Over the last few decades, Halloween has become increasingly popular in China alongside the revival of traditional festivities such as Ghost Month. Halloween celebrations in China occur on the same day as the rest of the world, but costume choices are not necessarily entirely made up of American or European monsters. As such, you might see girls dressed up as sexy spider demons dancing with Dracula at the school horror disco.

Looking at all the different types of Chinese ghosts, I hope this list provides you with some innovative costume ideas for your Halloween parties.

Find more writing by Xueting Christine Ni at her website, Snow Pavilion Illustrations by Elaine Chow and Mayura Jain

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'The Brothers Sun' is a freewheeling, messy and quite entertaining comedy-thriller


John Powers

The jokes and bodies pile up in this eight-part Netflix series about a Taiwanese assassin who travels to L.A. to protect his goofy younger brother and his formidable mother, played by Michelle Yeoh.


This is FRESH AIR. In the new Netflix comedy-drama "The Brothers Sun," a legendary Taiwanese assassin travels to Los Angeles to protect his goofy younger brother and his formidable mother, played by Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh. Our critic-at-large John Powers says the series is freewheeling, messy and quite entertaining.

JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: The most famous line of the Vietnam War came during the Tet Offensive, when an American major declared that his soldiers had to destroy a village to save it. This remark sent shock waves through American culture, finding its most famous echo, perhaps, in "The Godfather" saga, where Michael Corleone's often-expressed desire to protect his family leads him, among other things, to have his own brother murdered. This same idea takes more lighthearted form in "The Brothers Sun," a messily enjoyable new Netflix series about a family whose patriarch heads Taiwan's most powerful triad, or gang. Created by newcomer Byron Wu and TV veteran Brad Falchuk, who co-created "Glee" and "American Horror Story," this freewheeling eight-episode comedy thriller puts a refreshing Asian American spin on traditional gangster and immigrant yarns.

Justin Chien stars as Charles Sun, a notoriously lethal killer who works for his father's triad, the Jade Dragon. When someone tries to murder his old man, Charles, known as Chair Leg for once killing a man with one, flies to LA to safeguard the rest of his family, whom he hasn't seen in years. His mother, Eileen - that's Michelle Yeoh - lives with his younger brother Bruce, played by Sam Song Li, a good-hearted college student who has no clue about the family business. Bruce's idea of being bad is secretly taking an improv class instead of cramming hard to become a doctor, as his mother expects. As soon as Charles hits town, things get really busy. Even as hitmen come after the family in waves, there's a whole lot of knifing, shooting and martial arts.

The brothers are busy feeling each other out, getting romantically involved with women who may or may not be trustworthy, and discovering that their mother is not who they'd thought. She may seem like an ordinary mom. Her sons marvel at her gifts for passive aggressive manipulation, but she plots triad warfare like a latter-day Sun Tzu. Here, she and Charles visit a mahjong parlor looking for intel. When he grumbles that they're wasting their time, she explains why they've come.


JUSTIN CHIEN: (As Charles) It's totally - it's a waste of time. Let's go play mahjong with some aunties. We might win three whole dollars.

MICHELLE YEOH: (As Eileen) You see a basement full of chatty old women. I see a complex network of relationships, favors and debts.

CHIEN: (As Charles) They're gossips, not spies.

YEOH: (As Eileen) If you want to know about politics, you go to Mrs. Cheng (ph). She works at the mayor's office. And if you want to know about the church, ask Mrs. Liu (ph). Her husband is the pastor of the Chinese church. And if you want to know anything about Pastor Liu, ask Mrs. Wong (ph). She is having an affair with him. And rumor has it she gave him herpes.

POWERS: Now, if you've seen much Chinese pop culture, you'll know that it often possesses a slightly delirious mixture of tones. "The Brothers Sun" is closer in spirit to Hong Kong than to Hollywood in the sense that it dishes up seemingly everything - action sequences, cornball buffoonery, romantic interludes, soap opera twists, touching tales of illegal immigrants and sly jokes about Asian American life, including a parody of the mansion where the actor John Cho supposedly lives. All of this is fueled by wall-to-wall pop songs. Although the show's uneven, "The Brothers Sun" offers a nifty glimpse at Chinese immigrant life in LA's San Gabriel Valley, with its mini-malls, low-rent travel agents and terrific restaurants. The show correctly identifies the bakery that makes the best egg tarts.

We meet an admirably wide range of Asian American characters, from nerdy to comically feckless to downright dangerous. And we get an amusingly offbeat look at the conventional divide between immigrant parents, who want their kids to be professionals, and the kids, who want the sort of fun, creative jobs you get to do in America. In their different ways, all the sons attempt to save the family - Charles with ultraviolence, Eileen with chicanery, Bruce by working to force them out of crime altogether. Yet they all have dreams that are being thwarted by the very family they're trying to save.

Just as Bruce wants to be on stage and not in med school, Charles is trapped being a killer. He's a wannabe baker who's actually happier in the kitchen trying to learn how to make the churros that wowed him when he first hit LA. Even though the show is officially about the brothers, its true center of gravity is the Oscar-winning Yeoh, who possesses the ease and emotional weight that turns their mother into the show's most compelling character - a smart, strong woman who calmly but firmly reveals her own ambitions. As the jokes and bodies fly all around her, Yeoh makes Eileen the still point of a madly spinning world.

MOSLEY: John Powers reviewed the new Netflix series "The Brothers Sun." If you'd like to catch up with FRESH AIR interviews you missed, check out our podcast. You'll find recent interviews with Bradley Cooper, who directed, wrote and stars in the new movie "Maestro," and with Rose Previte, author of a new cookbook inspired by her travels and home-cooked Lebanese dishes from her childhood. Find FRESH AIR wherever you listen to podcasts. And to keep up with what's on the show and to get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram @nprfreshair.


MOSLEY: Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. My co-host is Terry Gross. I'm Tonya Mosley.

Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

chinese comedy ghost story

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chinese comedy ghost story

A Chinese Ghost Story

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Is The Ghost Stories Anime A Comedy?

Posted: January 5, 2024 | Last updated: January 6, 2024

  • Comedy is a difficult genre to create content for because what makes people laugh is personal and individual.
  • The Ghost Stories dub is a great example of how comedy can be reinterpreted from the source material.
  • There is a difference between something being a comedy and simply being funny, with comedy having a certain emotional core.

Comedy, much like horror, is an incredibly difficult genre to create content for. The things that make an audience laugh are much like the things that scare them, incredibly personal and individual. A master of comedy can paint with a brush broad enough to appeal to most people while also being specific enough to have a personality. It's a fine line that can easily be a stumbling block for even the best creators out there, so it's rare for a series to manage to make a large spread of people laugh. Sometimes, however, comedy comes through the reinterpretation of source material.

One of the best examples of this concept is the famously raunchy dub of Ghost Stories , a particularly unassuming monster of the week anime that the dub team went absolutely feral on. While the original story was based on popular ghost stories in Japan, the dub had very few constraints when it came to releasing the show for American Audiences. But while the dub is very funny despite its outdated humor, the anime itself was never meant to be a comedy and only became darkly humorous after it was reinterpreted. There is, however, a lot of difference between something being a comedy and simply being funny.

How Shonen Manga Treat Their "Non-Canon" Content

What's the deal with comedy versus just being funny.

There is an old adage that " comedy is just tragedy plus time ." Comedy used to mainly refer to plays that had happy endings, making them the opposite of a tragedy. As time has gone on, the lines between the two once distinct genres have been blurred enough to depend on one another to a certain extent. In many ways, comedy as a genre, especially timeless comedy, is sort of like catching lightning in a bottle. There needs to be a meeting of good writing, chemistry, and enough personality for it to resonate well with audiences and create an environment that is conducive to laughter itself. Very often, good comedy has a certain emotional core to it that allows it to resonate on a different level.

A good joke has a formula to it, much in the way that a song does. There are a lot of different structures for how to set up good, lasting comedic situations, but the most simple formula can be condensed into six steps:

  • Who is the target of the joke? Usually, a joke has a "main character" of some kind that acts as the entry point for the audience.
  • The joke needs a clear setup. If the audience needs the joke explained in the middle, it can't be successful.
  • It needs to relate to a fact within the world in which the joke takes place. Just making things up reads to a very specific type of comedy that isn't as universal.
  • It needs to be simple. It's never funny if the joke is too complex.
  • Delivery is key. How a joke or funny scenario is presented is just as important as what is presented.
  • Surprise is the ally of comedy, but don't give it away too quickly. Give the joke room to breathe and land.

Comedy in the early 2000s had a different edge to it, particularly in the Western world and America specifically. There was a focus on being as raunchy and shocking as possible, leaning into the element of surprise in a world that now felt a little smaller. With the rise of internet culture, the growing discontent with governmental and economic institutions, and the ever-widening public eye, there was a sense of randomness and Dadaesque chaos when it came to popular culture. Comedy Central and Adult Swim were creating some of the edgiest shows ever put on television with dark humor focused on gore, sex, and everything in between. This was a time when writing was meant to push the envelope and to be as offensive as possible, in ways that probably would not fly in today's culture, which puts more value on understanding and discourse. In many ways, the Ghost Stories dub was a result of this era of comedy. The world that gave rise to "i can haz cheeseburger" and led many people to deep dive into Know Your Meme is probably the only one in which such a dub could have been created for distribution on a wide scale.

Just as audiences evolve, so too must the genres they take in. That is why a lot of things that were considered comedy in the early 2000s are mainly considered just funny today. Comedy requires a tie to the past, present, and future to make sure it stays relevant for the long haul. Something can be flash-in-the-pan funny without actually being a comedy.

Is It Time For Anime Seasons To Go?

Ghost stories is funny, but it's not really a comedy.

Comedy exists in a lot of places in anime. It often acts as a sub-genre to shonen specifically. Straight comedy anime also usually have a secondary genre to tie into them to make them appeal to a wider audience. One Punch Man , for example, is a parody shonen series. The Vampire Dies In No Time is a supernatural comedy. There are many different ways in which comedy is integrated into different genres across anime, but the original version of Ghost Stories was not really one of them.

Originally, the Ghost Stories anime did not do very well in Japan. Based on a popular children's book series written by Toru Tsunemitsu in the '90s that tried to introduce Japanese folklore to younger audiences, Ghost Stories was not as well regarded as the books or the movies that resulted from it. It just wasn't as exciting or interesting as Yu-Gi-Oh or Inuyasha . When the show was turned over for dubbing , the team was given free rein, as there was a desperation to make the show as popular as possible. The only restrictions that dubbing company ADV had were that they couldn't change the names of the characters, couldn't change how the ghosts were disposed of, and couldn't change the core lesson in the episodes. This is a lot of freedom to give to a dub team that now had a show that, for the early 2000s, was going to be very much outside of the experiences of most Western audiences.

Another thing to remember about that time is that, while anime had its core fans in the West, it was not the global phenomenon that it is today, with the exception of Pokémon . Fewer people had exposure to the finer points of Japanese culture, like the folklore itself or some of the Shinto and Buddhist references that the original would have made. The dubbing team went pretty hogwild over the script. Many of the voice actors themselves got to contribute to the script, ad-libbing ran freely, and there were a lot of different jokes thrown out there.

The dub of the anime would not have been out of place in the comedy of the 2000s. The humor often referenced pop culture, leaned into more offensive jokes, and had an irreverent air that pulled from some of the Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook comedy energy of the time. In many ways, this series was oddly prescient, as the era of the Abridged Series on YouTube was soon to come with many of those creators going on to be employed by dubbing studios like Funimation. One thing that can definitely be said of Ghost Stories is that it is incredibly funny in places, if very off-color. But it isn't a comedy.

The source material itself was a pretty bog-standard monster of the week sort of show and, while the dub was funny, that core structure didn't really change. There were lots of off-the-cuff, shocking jokes to be made, but it wasn't anything really different from the shock humor of Drawn Together or some other similar shows at the time. They were jokes for the sake of jokes, whereas a comedy usually has something tying all the jokes into a central point. While Ghost Stories was made to retain the central point, the jokes were tacked on as something fun.

Is The Ghost Stories Anime A Comedy?

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