In North America (and much of the world), the phrase "animated film with musical numbers" is likely to invoke images of Disney. But not everywhere; in Asia, home-grown animation is king, with especially the Japanese "anime" the recipient much of popular and critical acclaim.
The Chinese (and those in Hong Kong) have also been carving their own slice of the Asianimation pie. Shown as a festival "midnight madness" screening, "A Chinese Ghost Story" proved to be an exhilarating, visually impressive film. At the same time, the subtitles provided what can only be described as unintentional linguistic amusement, with such character names as "Boogie Stairs" and the dog "Solid Gold" (I'm sorry, but Marilyn MacCoo did come to mind often...), and too many interesting turns of phrase to even begin to recount.
The story is pretty basic: a young man, in love with a woman, finds himself caught up in a world of reincarnation, martial arts, ghosts, ghostbusting monks, and strange contraptions and machines. The characters are animated like the cheap Japanese Saturday morning cartoons - all ovals for the eyes and mouth. The backgrounds, however, are lushly drawn, and the almost experimental feel of the landscapes, with their changes of perspective and movement, comes across very well on the big screen. The film is a hybrid of computer and traditional animation, and the conflict and contrast of styles is particularly effective.
With characters such as Red Beard, his "Way of Ways" mechanical/robotic companion/vehicle, the ghostbusting, zealous monk White Cloud, his Tornado-spewing sidekick, and a host of vampires, ghosts, and "smelly eyes", the film is ripe in both dialogue and character interaction. Even the musical interludes are amusing and fun, with the neo-disco rhythms thumping perfectly to the narcissistic vocal stylings of the (made of) rock "superstar" singer.
The dialogue alone makes the film worth seeing, but coupled with a
strong visual style, good (if at times crude) computer and
traditional animation, and an engaging musical score, the film is
very much fun to watch. It's refreshing to find a state-of-the-art
film a little different from the ubiquitous Disney fare.
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