Genre: Ghost/ Action/ Romance/ Martial Arts/ Comedy/ Fantasy
Director: O Sing-Pui
NOT WORTH YOUR TIME
After the wild success of the original A Chinese Ghost Story, a slew of imitators popped out of the Hong Kong filmmaking factory. One of the first, Golden Swallow, appeared in theaters only five months after the debut of A Chinese Ghost Story. Now, try to get your head around that. The filmmakers of Golden Swallow had to write a script, hire the actors, build sets, film the movie, edit it, and someone had to write a score. That they managed this in less than six months is simply phenomenal. It’s no shock that Golden Swallow isn’t very good. What’s surprising is that it’s watchable at all.
The screenwriters, something called the Alan & Eric Scriptwriting Team, shamelessly copied most of the elements from A Chinese Ghost Story. Scholar Lo Chi Chau (played by Anthony Wong Yiu-Ming, who even looks a little like Leslie Cheung) follows a group of traders to the Black Mountain, where he hopes to pick up some business skills. Along the way, he saves a swallow from some bratty kids with slingshots. It turns out that the Black Mountain is haunted by a demon, Old Lady (Ivy Ling Po), who is assisted by two apprentice demons, Siu Suet (Cherie Chung) and Hsiao Shuang (the lovely Ngai Si-Pooi). When Lo Chi Chau runs into the demons, he is saved by Siu Suet, who turns out to be the golden swallow Lo Chi Chau saved earlier. The scholar and the demon fall in love. Instead of one swordsman who initially pursues the female demon and later ends up helping, as in the first film, there are two, Left Sword (Eric Tsang) and Right Sword (Richard Ng).
Now, rip-offs don’t have to be bad, but it’s not enough to steal the basic story. You have to duplicate the charming elements of the film you’re ripping off and at the same time keep the audience’s interest by introducing enough new wrinkles that they don’t nod off from boredom.
The filmmakers don’t get everything wrong. The rescue of the golden swallow is a charming touch. The flying effects are graceful. The choreography of the martial arts in the scenes in which Left Sword and Right Sword fight each other are well done by Yuen Bun and Phillip Kwok. The Old Lady uses frozen breath to incapacitate her enemies, which is kind of fun.
But Golden Swallow suffers greatly in comparison to A Chinese Ghost Story. The comic rivalry between Right Sword and Left Sword is jejune. Eric Tsang and Richard Ng are torture to watch. Nothing funny about those two. The screenplay is repetitive, awkward and slow. At a critical juncture, the attitude of Scholar Lo Chi Chau towards Siu Suet changes abruptly without apparent reason. About 20 minutes later, we figure out that Siu Suet did something to his memory so he wouldn’t recognize her, but in the meantime, we’re talking total confusion and irritation. The bittersweet denouement isn’t logically explained to our satisfaction. It seems like it’s sole purpose is to adhere to the formula established by A Chinese Ghost Story.
Worst of all, there is little of the poetry that characterized A Chinese Ghost Story. Golden Swallow is transparently a product, the inspiration of greed, a cynical cash-in.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was grateful by the time the end credits started to roll.
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