LADY JADE LOCKET A ghostly love story from Shaw Bros.
LADY JADE LOCKET (aka LIAN SUO, 1967) is one of many Hong Kong-produced romantic ghost stories set in Old China about a scholar who moves into a haunted house and falls in love with the female ghost whose spirit resides there. I've seen a lot of these films and tend to like them better than any other kind of ghost story, but this is easily one of the best I've yet seen, thanks chiefly to the central performances of actress Li Li Hua, playing the male scholar Yue Wei, and Li Ching in a dual role as the ghost of Lian Suo, a woman who died defending herself from a rapacious noble seeking to force her into marriage, and the ghost's living sister, Lian Wei, whose petulance contrasts with the sweet, generous and studious demeanor of the dead girl. Yue Wei is initially frightened at the presence of a ghost, but Lian Suo gradually assuages his fears and shares her love of poetry and art with him. A self portrait of Lian Suo, painted with remarkable detail, plays a key role in the courtship. At one point, the painting becomes a moving, speaking live-action image of Lian Suo and she leaps from it into the room, leaving a blank space on the painting.
There are lots of playful moments between the two as their romance develops, as well as lyrical moments of song, poetry and long walks in the moonlight. At one point, Lian Suo plays the guzheng, a Chinese zither, and sings a sweet song in accompaniment. It's a lovely scene and I wish I knew the name of the singer dubbing Li Ching's voice for that song. Later in the film, the two lovers celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by taking a boat out onto a lake at night, confounding the boatman who only sees Yue Wei, who has prepared a meal for two and acts fully engaged with his phantom partner, to the point where the boatman sees a teacup floating in air and being emptied into an unseen mouth.
Complications set in because Yue Wei is considered a wanted criminal for seeking to expose the wrongs committed by an official he'd been working for. In the comfort of the abandoned library where he sets up shop, aided by two sworn brothers (Wang Hsieh and Yang Chi-ching) and a sympathetic servant at the nearby estate where Lian Suo's haughty sister lives, he composes "The Twelve Crimes of Ngai Chung Yian," which he plans to deliver to the Emperor's court. Eventually, others learn of his presence there and seek to turn him in for the reward. At the same time, Lian Suo is under assault by the ghosts of the evil men she killed when defending herself (dramatized in a pre-credits sequence) who seek to trap her in the netherworld. A Buddhist priest is eventually called in by the sister's guardian to exorcise the tattered ruins of Lian Suo's home in order to keep her spirit from appearing. It all leads to a highly suspenseful finale; I could never be sure if it was all going to end tragically or happily.
The story was eventually remade as PICTURE OF A NYMPH (1988), which I've also reviewed on IMDb. I'm guessing that the story comes from "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," a collection of Chinese ghost stories compiled by Pu Songling (1640-1715), a prominent Qing Dynasty scholar. His stories also provided the basis for the Chinese GHOST STORY films produced by Tsui Hark in 1987-1991, as well as many earlier films including Shaw Bros.' ENCHANTING SHADOW (1960).
I've seen Li Li Hua in several other Shaw Bros. films, including THE MAGNIFICENT CONCUBINE (1962) and EMPRESS WU (1963), both of which I've reviewed here. LADY JADE LOCKET is the first film I've seen in which she plays a man. It's an energetic and expressive performance, quite a change from the imperious court personalities portrayed in the two other films I just mentioned. She and Ivy Ling Po, who also played male roles, are arguably the greatest Shaw Bros. actresses of their era. Li Ching is quite beautiful in her dual roles and is able to convey each character's essential qualities with contrasting gestures and styles of movement so that we're never confused as to which character she's portraying in any given scene. The supporting cast is filled with an array of dependable Shaw Bros. character actors. If I have any question about the movie, it's about the English title, LADY JADE LOCKET. As far as I could tell there was no jade locket anywhere in it.
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