Chinese Ghost Story III, A
Hong Kong 1991
Directed by Ching Siu-Tung.

100 years have passed since the end of A Chinese Ghost Story, and the evil tree demon is back, having licked its wounds and recovered from its battle with the Taoist Master Yan. A Chinese Ghost Story III is in many ways a remake of the original instead of a sequel. It's as if Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-Tung have returned to the original material and re-written it, with subtle variations. Nevertheless, it makes for an engaging picture, because it follows the rule of sequels: make everything the same as before, but bigger.

Our hero this time is Fong, a young Buddhist monk, who is traveling with a sacred Gold Buddha with his Master. The ouline of the plot starts out very much the same as the original film -- the two monks are traveling, they encounter a vicious swordfight, they enter into town, and soon are forced to seek refuge in the abandoned Orchid Monastery. The tree demon has more minions at his disposal this time, including a bevy of bald concubines, and three beautiful ghost sisters who seduce travelers and take them to their doom.

When the two monks arrive, the tree demon decides to have some sport with them, and sends ghostly Lotus (played, as you may have expected, by Joey Wong. Again.) to seduce young Fong. Fong, although uncertain whether he even should be a monk, knows of no other life, and successfully fights off Lotus's affection. Lotus, after trying to seduce and kill the monk several times, starts having feelings for him. She's a different sort of ghost than Hsiao-Tsien from A Chinese Ghost Story, however, in one crucial way: she's perfectly happy to hang out at the temple killing people. It's a nice, steady job. She has a home. It's something she never had, when she was living, she explains. She was sold again and again, finally to a man who had many concubines and treated her cruelly. So she kills, and does it with gusto. Why not?

When the Buddhist Master returns to the temple and finds Lotus there, he nearly kills her. But just at that time, the tree demon attacks, his massive tongue uprooting trees and breaking down walls. The Monk fights the demon to a stalemate, and then attempts to use the power of the Gold Buddha to defeat him. Unfortunately, the Buddha is cracked, and the Monk is defeated. He cries out to Fong to fix the statue and come back to his rescue. Fong heads back into town to try to find someone to help him.

In this age, the people are shown to be worse than they ever have been before. Casual violence has been amply illustrated among the commoners in the first two films, but here, the people have sunk to a new low. Everyone is armed. If you bump into someone, if you look at someone funny, if you dispute an item of food brought to your table, it could lead to violence, even death. It would be funny, were it not for the fact that I know gang kids who actually would fight and maybe even kill someone who looked at them the wrong way. Perhaps we are living in this dark age still.

Fong finally finds help in the form of swordsman Yin (Jacky Cheung), who will only do anything for money. He uses the beads of his abacus to count the value of his help the way a monk uses the beads of his rosary to count recitations of the diamond sutra. Together with the ghost Lotus, who may or may not help them, they must rescue the Master, and defeat the tree demon.

The special effects are as eye-popping and exciting in this film as in the first two installments. Here, it seems Ching Siu-Tung was inspired by the giant tongue of the tree demon and found other simple body parts to use as weapons in the other characters. The old Master uses his ear lobes, not only to detect truth from falsehood, but, when called upon, to shield his eyes from further damage. Lotus uses her hair as a deadly weapon, her sister Butterfly uses her fingernails. Extremities gone wild.

When taken as a whole, the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy does, in a way, form a narrative whole. Each of the two sequels to the first film explore further the characters and themes from the first movie. In the first movie, the Pu Songling story The Magic Sword provides the backing to a plot thick with superstition and magic. In A Chinese Ghost Story II, the tale is peeled away, revealing a complicated political struggle amid signs of the collapse of the government regime. Finally, in A Chinese Ghost Story III, we see the after-effects of the collapse, where men are reduced to savagery and greed, and only a pair of monks and their powers can help restore the balance. When seen this way, the themes of the three films roughly parallel the themes explored in King Hu's A Touch of Zen. I am reminded of that film again during the climax of A Chinese Ghost Story III, when the Master cuts himself to use his life essence to defeat the evil demon and he bleeds a brilliant gold. A fine conclusion to a ground-breaking trilogy.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 06, 2004.


I LOVE this movie a lot. Joey Wang is so gorgeous.

Posted by: chachacha at March 24, 2005 07:42 AM
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