That brings me to the movie that's the subject of this post, 1987's "A Chinese Ghost Story." My memories tell me that the copy I acquired of this film had no subtitles, though that memory might be wrong. I think, instead, they just weren't very good. The story then seemed muddled and yet I thoroughly enjoyed the goofiness and pathos of this movie. Like many films out of Hong Kong then, and possibly now, it has moments of going over the top. There is quite a bit of wire-fu, spell casting and swordsmanship. This all comes hand in hand with demons of the underworld that make our Western Zombies look pale in comparison. This film manages to tread three narrow lines at the same time; it is equal parts romance, comedy and horror. I recently re-watched this, thanks to YouTube and can say that the film held up quite well.
The plot revolves around a young debt-collector who is rather meek and bad at his job. When he gets to the town that's the focus of his efforts, he can't even collect enough money to put himself up for the night. He's directed to the nearby Orchid Temple, which is known by the locals to be haunted. There he runs into two swordsmen in the midst of a duel. One is driven away, only to be seduced by the lovely ghost of the temple who, in the middle of The Act, calls out to the local ancient evil tree demon/demoness who sucks the life juices from the hapless swordsman. The other leaves the story for now. When the young debt collector sets himself up for sleep, the ghost returns. Her appearance isn't at all ghost-like so the young debt collector mistakes her for a real young woman. Unlike all her other victims, he doesn't look for sex with her and turns aside her advances. When he thinks she might be in danger, he tries to protect her. This causes the ghost to start to fall in love, a condition soon shared by the young debt collector.
From there, the plot generally wanders towards the idea of saving the ghost from her fate while destroying the ancient evil whose major power is her/his amazing extendable tongue. Just when the movie seems to be getting too serious, some form of comedy slides in to bring it around, or we get an exciting fight scene with folks flying all about, tossing off curses and charms, chants that fend of evil powers or a giant tongue that wraps itself around the temple, the fighters or anything it can get itself around.
The ending, too is not the usual Hollywood, happily-ever-after affair though it does seem to be open enough to two sequels. I don't remember them nearly as well, and haven't watched them, partially as this film stands just fine on its own.
The young debt collector