is 1930s Shanghai, but Gu Weibang’s decision to shoot his debut ghost story
film inside a notoriously haunted movie theater is worthy of William Castle or
Blumhouse. His up-and-coming leading lady Meng Sifan and her elegant print
dresses certainly looks like they were inspired by Ruan Lingyu. However, Meng
has a dark past that is distinctly her own in Raymond Yip’s Phantom of the Theatre (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD from Well Go USA.
years ago, a tragic fire in the movie palace killed a family of traveling
acrobats. Ever since, the theater has sat vacant due to reported supernatural
activity. The purse-snatcher who internally combusts after taking refuge inside
during the prologue just further stokes its reputation. Nevertheless, Gu is
determined to film his ghostly romance there, even though his lover Phyllis Fei
Lisi is the coroner autopsying the many corpses found within.
Gu falls for Meng, heedless of the potential repercussions with sleazy producer
Tang Shirao, who only funded the film to lust after the popular ingénue.
Fortunately, the Phantom will do them a solid, killing off Tang, along with the
lead actor. Of course, the show must go on, so Gu will be forced to step in and
film all those love scenes with Meng himself. She might even be falling for him
too, but her sinister connection to the Phantom rather complicates matters.
a Mainland production (as opposed to a Hong Kong ghost story), Phantom was duly required to have the
Scooby-Do-style explanation for any and all supernatural goings on, but that is
still in keeping with the tradition of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom. Frankly, viewers can see the echoes of many cinematic influences,
but Yip purees them with panache. In fact, there is something refreshingly old
fashioned about the film. The ambiance is evocatively gothic, the sets are baroquely
detailed, and the costumes are fab. Scampering through the ostensibly haunted
set is just good fun, reminding fans of the old dark house movies of
Lin also takes a real star turn as tragically seductive Meng. Chaste yet
smoldering, she conveys volumes through a silent look. Tony Yang’s Gu looks
rather awkward and gawky opposite her, but who wouldn’t? Fortunately, Jing
Gang-shan goes all in chewing the scenery and venting his spleen as the titular
haunter. Huang Huan is also quite charismatic and ultimately rather touching as
Fei, the bizarrely endearing pathologist. Surprisingly though, the compulsively
watchable Simon Yam’s sly fox persona does not feel quite right for Gu
Mingshan, the rookie director’s estranged warlord father.
Loaded with spooky trappings, Phantom looks great. With its nostalgic heart
and little on-screen violence to speak of, it would be an appropriate Halloween
selection to view with older parents (but the scenes establishing the acrobats’
fate might be too intense for young children). Recommended for fans of tragic
gothic romance and 1930s style, Phantom
of the Theatre is now available on DVD and digital platforms, from Well Go
Labels: Chinese Cinema, DVD, Ruby Lin, Simon Yam, Well Go USA