The Enchanting Ghost (1970) was directed by Chou Hsu-Chiang, and stars Chang Mei-Yao as Ruyu, and Yang Li-Hua as Yuzhu. It also features Lui Ming as Master Shi, Li Hong as Master Shi's wife, and Julie Lee Chi-Fun as Chun Tao.
The movie is about a scholar, Yuzhu, who loses his property to a scheming uncle and a man named Master Shi. Without a place to reside, Yuzhu moves into an abandoned estate with a reputation for being haunted. There he meets a woman, Ruyu, who initially seems to be a ghost, but is really just a normal human, taking refuge with her dying mother after an attack by robbers. Yuzhu and Ruyu form a life together at the estate and eventually marry. There life is blissful but the joy is interrupted when Yuzhu's Uncle and Master Shi hear rumors that Yuzhu has married a pretty ghost and go to investigate. When Master Shi sees Ruyu, he lures Yuzhu away to abduct and imprison her. At Master Shi's estate, Ruyu is raped by Master Shi, then poisoned by his wife before being released. The poison causes Ruyu's skin to peel and her hair to fall out. Ashamed and unable to return to Yuzhu, she commits suicide but comes back as a ghost, haunting her killers to death.
I am not going to lie, The Enchanting Ghost is slow paced but in my opinion, this is what makes it work. It is also not the kind of movie most modern viewers are accustomed to. While The Enchanting Ghost is a horror movie, the supernatural is mostly hinted at until the very end, and by today's standards the terror is not overwhelming. I don't state these things to criticize the movie or discourage people from viewing it. Rather, I want the reader to clearly understand what kind of horror movie this is, so they don't go in with misguided expectations.
|Ruyu and Yuzhu|
There is a sense of doom hanging over the couple from the very beginning. The Enchanting Ghost foreshadows Ruyu's fate from the moment we meet her. Throughout the movie, the possibility of Ruyu being a ghost is toyed with. When Yuzhu encounters Ruyu for the first time, she is mistaken for a ghost. Later in the movie she dresses as a ghost to frighten away Yuzhu's uncle. Then there are rumors in the village that Ruyu is a ghost and has enchanted Yuzhu. By the time she actually becomes a real ghost, your mind has been prepared.
|Ruyu returns as a ghost|
The characters in the film are stark and clear. The villains are all knowingly wicked. That includes not just Master Shi and Yuzhu's uncle, but Master Shi's wife and his concubine, Chun Tao. It is the wife's idea to poison Ruyu for example, because she and Chun Tao are jealous of her beauty. The protagonists are both pure and innocent. Yuzhu is a scholar who desires only to read as many great books as he can, and seems to have no desire for riches. Ruyu is clever and virtuous, being the one to sense the peril posed by Yuzhu's uncle. I should note that Yuzhu is played by a woman (Yang Li-Hua). That isn't too uncommon in films made when this one was.
The scene where Ruyu is raped and killed is unsettling and heartbreaking. Though Ruyu is presented as clever and is aware that Master Shi is evil, she is tricked when a servant comes to the house to tell her that Yuzhu took ill at a shop in town. The servant leads her to Master Shi's estate where she is imprisoned in a bedroom, then assaulted by Master Shi. These scenes are perhaps mild when compared to movies today, but you've spent so much time getting to know Yuzhu that your fully aligned with her as a character and this makes the horror palpable. In the morning, Master Shi's wife, and his concubine Chun Tao ask her to eat something before sending her home. They laced the food with poison and as she makes her way back to the estate, she collapses and wakens in the night to her hair and skin falling off. All the while Yuzhu is pining for Ruyu, wandering and calling her name. She hears him calling to her, and whispers a response "I am here Yuzhu", before plunging into pond to kill herself.
Like I said earlier this is more of an atmospheric horror movie, than one designed to send you screaming. It does have its moments, they are just fairly restrained and most of the movie is devoted to establishing the characters, so that you care about them in the finale. But it is truly foreboding throughout. in fact, I think that is the chief tone of horror that is maintains. You know things will not end well, and The Enchanting Ghost teases you with hints. Ruyu is the more aware of the danger than Yuzhu, and in a crucial moment in the movie just as Master Shi is concocting his evil plans, tells him they must leave the house. A moment of delay on Yuzhu's part seems to seal their fate.
The Enchanting Ghost was quite influential when I was working on Strange Tales, which is why I wanted to do a review of it. In terms of gaming, while this doesn't immediately seem like something that would lend itself to ideas, it certainly is worth viewing. My take form it was the possibility of creating a ghost the players care about. One way to achieve this is to introduce an NPC the party who is only turned into a ghost later in the campaign. But I think it could also be achieved inside a single adventure. The way the ghost is presented is also helpful for a GM trying to find an interesting way to introduce ghosts.
I do recommend the Enchanting Ghost mainly to people who have an interest in seeing earlier examples of horror (especially if you are interested in Chinese Cinema). Also if you like classic movies, I think this will likely appeal to you. Personally I think it is one of the more interesting horror movies out there, and find my mind going back to it frequently.