A Chinese Ghost Story
DVD - Tsui Hark Animation
Hong Kong cinema has been a mainstay among a large and growing cult of American fans since the 60's. Anime has had a similar following, albeit a much younger one, but those pop-culture items are nearly as popular in Hong Kong as they are in their native land.
Common sense would mandate that, at some point, these two would form more of a marriage than just getting influences off of each other. Finally, in 1997, Hong Kong director Tsui Hark got together with the Japanese animation house Triangle Staff (Serial Experiments Lain) to produce a full-length rendered anime version of Hark's successful series of live-action movies of the same name. The result is quite an achievement.
Ning, a young man who was recently rejected by his heart-throb Siu Lan, wanders the world along with his dog, Solid Gold. After being caught up in a battle between two spirit warriors, he comes to the aid of a beautiful female ghost named Siu Seen, who comes to love him. However, his warrior friend Red Beard warns him against trusting ghosts. Is he right? Can the two ever be together in human bodies? Can Ning shield his beloved from the sunlight every time, or will she melt away?
Although bosting Hark's trademark non-stop action look (which sometimes falters, becoming messy and distracting), the beautiful (if a little beat-up) rich color prints of Hong Kong cinema and anime's distinctive character design, the biggest influence on Chinese Ghost Story is Disney. Well-placed musical numbers adorn the fairy-tale love story, as well as fast-paced magical action sequences, not to mention a constant barrage of stunning CG work that has only recently been improved upon, and not yet at a theatrical level. (Hint: Squaresoft.) In fact, Chinese Ghost Story improves on Disney fables, since it is not necessary to rip the story to shreds to present a film that is acceptable to families, and is quite original in places. Really, the only thing obnoxious parental groups could complain about here are a few urine jokes.
As for the dubbing, this is the first animated film dubbed from Chinese in recent memory, and while the cast and crew of Ocean Group is more than up to the task, Trish Ledoux's English script could use a bit of work, as it doesn't seem to recognize the limitations of the Chinese language, and somewhat carries them through to the English translation. Despite that and a cliche-ridden battle sequence, the result is still very good. Michael "Ryoga" Donavan is a perfect youthful, frenetic Ning, and the rest of the cast shines as well. (The WordFit editing was a bit rough in spots, for those who are picky about such things as mouth-movements.)
The songs are all dubbed into English, and quite well at that. I've never heard English lyrics to Chinese melodies before, and while somewhat odd-sounding, it doesn't sound too bad, and certainly more in-place than the fake Chinese influences Disney had with Mulan a few years ago.
Viz did a limited release of a badly-subtitled theatrical release earlier this year, and similarly, Tai Seng Video Co., Ltd. released a reigon-0 DVD last year. However, the new Pioneer DVD release will include all three language tracks (English, Cantonese, Mandarin) as well as English subtitles. So, while this is hardly a fan's first opportunity to see the film, it's certainly a fan's best bet!
Overall (dub) : A-
+ Beautiful animation, family entertainment rivals Disney
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