FAIRY, GHOST, VIXEN - Hong Kong anthology of supernatural love stories
FAIRY, GHOST, VIXEN (1965) consists of three fanciful tales that may be loosely classified as ghost stories, but they're presented and designed more along the lines of traditional fairy tales. They're beautifully staged and photographed and have a timeless quality about them with a moral at the end of each. The title sums up the three stories in the film. The first is called "Marriage to a Vixen" and tells the tale of a young scholar's affair with a vixen (fox spirit) and its implications for his future. The second is called "Yingning" and is about a young man's betrothal to a beautiful cousin who turns out to be a ghost. The third, also named after the central female character, is called "Hua Gu" and is about a young man's affair with a "fairy," the spirit of a rabbit which he'd saved from a fox, an incident that rebounds when the embittered fox spirit takes advantage of the young man's forced separation from Hua Gu. All three tales originated in "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," compiled over a period of decades by Pu Songling (1640-1715) and first published in China in 1740.
All the scenes, even the outdoor ones, are shot on small, but nicely appointed indoor studio sets. (Don't expect lavish Shaw Bros.-style décor from this Cathay production.) Every plot point is presented simply and concisely. There are occasional bare-bones special effects, including a battle of sorcery between a ghost and a Taoist "ghostbuster" and a clever instance of stop-motion animation in which the furniture in a room is magically rearranged. However, the overriding emphasis is on the relationships between the male protagonists and the female entities they become involved with. Each of the women has something to teach the callow male lead.
The first story, "Marriage with a Vixen," appears to be the same one that was adapted into the Shaw Bros. film, ENCHANTING SHADOW (1960), and Ching Siu-Tung's Hong Kong New Wave extravaganza, A Chinese GHOST STORY (1987). The version here is quite a bit different from those two films, with a much less sympathetic protagonist who takes the riches given him by the vixen and then runs off to spend the money in town, including a long stay at a brothel. ENCHANTING SHADOW was more of a straight love story, and quite a beautiful production in its own right, while Chinese GHOST STORY dwelled on the supernatural aspects, with elaborate special effects, walking corpses, hellish monsters and a much more delirious romance. In FAIRY, GHOST, VIXEN, this story is, at 45 minutes, the longest one of the three and, I would argue, the most engaging.
The second and third stories would probably have benefited from longer treatment. There's an intriguing plot element in the "ghost" segment in which the ghost has to live on Earth doing good deeds for 49 days before her spirit can find peace. She entrusts her male friend with a portrait of her that he must protect at all costs. When a rival of his is made sick by her, a Taoist exorcist (or "ghostbuster") is called in and proves a real threat until the ghost's mother, also a ghost, emerges to wage a defense. With a bigger budget, this would have played out very nicely as a feature on its own, but is only 30 minutes here and ends on an inconclusive note.
The "Fairy" story has some very pretty shots of Hua Gu leading a troupe of fairy maidens in a dance on a misty celestial plateau. There's a cute segment where the hero is seduced by a vixen who makes herself look like the rabbit fairy, with two actresses involved in the portrayal. But viewers should be warned that there is also a scene involving live animals, in which an actual fox pounces on and ravages an actual rabbit. It's a bit jarring because the hero then "rescues" the rabbit, which looks none the worse for wear, leading me to suspect that more than one rabbit was used for the scene since the "stunt" rabbit couldn't have fared well at all after that attack by the fox.
Tang Ching plays the male lead in all three stories. He was already over 40 at the time, but he's made to look younger with lots of makeup. He went on to play tough guys at the Shaw Bros. studio in both contemporary thrillers (THE ANGEL STRIKES AGAIN) and swordplay adventures (VENGEANCE IS A GOLDEN BLADE). The lead actresses are: Bai Bing (vixen), Zhang Huixian (ghost) and Chen Fang (fairy), with Mo Chou as a second vixen who turns up in the third story. Of the four actresses, the only one I'd seen before was Zhang Huixian, aka Annette Chang Hui Hsien, who'd starred in IT'S ALWAYS SPRING (1962), a Cathay musical which I've also reviewed on this site. The rest of the cast is filled with familiar Hong Kong character actors, including Wang Lai (as the ghost mother) and Hao Li Jen (as the rabbit fairy's father). The only other film I've seen directed by Tang Huang was Cinderella AND HER LITTLE ANGELS (1959), a charming love story which I've also reviewed on this site.
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