Pretty Ghost (1991) Movie Review

It’s time again for that most uniquely Hong Kong of genres, the ghost comedy romance, with the re-release of the 1991 outing “Pretty Ghost”. The film, which apparently also went under the bizarrely inaccurate title of “Alien Wife” (the film features no aliens, and no wives), marked the directorial debut of Teddy Chan, who went on the helm the likes of “Purple Storm”, the Jackie Chan vehicle “The Accidental Spy”, and the forthcoming “Bodyguards and Assassins”. Offering the usual mix of slapstick gags, ghostly goings on and improbable human-spirit relations, the film handed Tony Leung Ka Fai (“Election”) an early, if not particularly dignified leading role, and boasted a couple of gorgeous leading ladies in the shapely forms of Rosamund Kwan (best known for her roles in the Jet Li “Once Upon a Time in China” films) and Ellen Chan (a popular actress at the time, who also featured in the likes of “Doctor Vampire” and “The Inspector Wears Skirts”).

The plot is pretty standard Hong Kong ghost nonsense, following a nice but nerdy office worker called Tony (Tony Leung Ka Fai) who spends most of his time trying and failing to win the heart of beautiful co-worker Ellen (Ellen Chan). Although poor Tony appears to have no chance with her, not least since she has a tough, sports car driving boyfriend, his luck seems to change when he meets a winsome spirit called Kaka (Rosamund Kwan). After accidentally breathing into her mouth, the two become somehow connected, experiencing each others’ emotions, and Kaka agrees to help him win Ellen’s heart. Not unexpectedly, at least for any viewers who have seen one of the hundreds of similarly themed films, things get complicated when Tony and Ellen start to develop feelings for each other, leading to all manner of complications and mildly spooky shenanigans.

Although familiar, “Pretty Ghost” is a great deal of fun, and is certainly one of the better examples of the genre. This is mainly due to the cast, all of whom seem to be having a good time, especially Tony Leung Ka Fai, who quite literally throws himself into his role with scant regard for self-respect. Certainly, most of the film’s amusingly low brow humour revolves around his doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or falling over pieces of furniture, with a little mischievous possession by Kaka thrown in for good measure. Both Rosamund Kwan and Ellen Chan turn in similarly game performances, the former despite having to wear what seems to be an attempt at a modern version of Joey Wong’s flowing white “Chinese Ghost Story” robes whenever the film feels it necessary to remind viewers that she is in fact a spectre. As a bonus, and not a small once, both actresses also look great in swimwear, with director Chan having the good sense to throw in an entirely pointless poolside scene.

The film bounces along at a fair pace, never letting its essential daftness get in the way of a good time. The plot itself is as chaotic as fans of the form would expect, including the throwing in of an evil spirit at the start, who promptly disappears entirely, and never really tries to move beyond the question as to whether Tony will end up with Ellen or Kaka. As such, the film is an obvious example of male nerd wish fulfilment, though thankfully not in a sleazy or mean spirited way. Although comedy dominates for the first hour or so, making for a good number of genuine laughs, romance takes over for the final act. This shift works well enough, mainly since Chan doesn’t attempt to take things too seriously, and the ending, though ridiculous, makes for a nice change from all the mock-heavy emotion and mournful yearnings of other similarly themed efforts which made the mistake of thinking viewers really cared about their characters.

As such, “Pretty Ghost” is likely to leave fans with smiles on their faces, and makes for entertaining and enjoyable viewing in the finest and wackiest traditions of the genre. Boosted by a great cast and Chan’s light touch, although by no means anything new, it’s definitely an above average example of its type, and a welcome reminder of the good old days of anything-goes Hong Kong cinema.

Teddy Chan (director) / Hing-Ka Chan, Kin Chung Chan, Gai Chi Yuen (screenplay)
CAST: Ellen Chan … Ellen
Tony Leung Ka Fai … Tony
Rosamund Kwan … Chia – The Ghost
Michael Chow Man-Kin … Michael
Siu-Wai Mui … Hui Mei
Fung Woo … Ghost Father

Buy Pretty Ghost on DVD