• Ghost Lovers



    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: March 12th, 2018.
    Director: Sang-ok Shin (as Shen Hsiang Yu)
    Cast: Ching Lee, Wei Tu Lin, Shao-Hung Chan
    Year: 1974
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    The Movie:

    Sang-ok Shin is best known as the man that was kidnapped by North Korea’s Kim Jong Il and forced to live and work in that country until he blessed the world with the cinematic gift that is Pulgasari, and then managed to escape when attending a film festival in Vienna. But before all of that happened and cemented the man’s place in film history, he made this early ‘horror’ film for Shaw Brothers in 1974 – Ghost Lovers.

    When the film begins, the beautiful Song Lian-Hua (Ching Lee) lies in her bed inside her wealthy family’s stately home. Her parents have recently passed away and the grief she suffers has her close to death. The only thing that keeps her barely holding on is the pending arrival of Han Shi-Long (Wai Tiu Lin). She’s been engaged to him for over fifteen years, since they were small kids, and she hasn’t seen him in just as long. Song’s family has requested that Han come to her side in hopes that his arrival will reverse her condition.

    He agrees, but gets attacked on the way. This delays his arrival and word gets back to Song, at which point she assumes he isn’t coming and she dies. Han is found injured in a field by a gambler on the way back to the home he shares with his wife. He brings the man with him and helps him heal, but in the interim it turns out that all manner of would be thieves are impersonating Han in the hopes of gaining the inheritance he is now due since Song passed. Meanwhile, two of Song’s crooked relatives are trying to get their hands on the money, all while her nursemaid tries to see that the right thing happens and that Song and Han are reunited… no matter what it takes.

    The Ghost Lovers spends about an hour of its ninety-one-minute running time toying around with light comedy and melodramatic romance, occasionally dabbling into the devious plotting of Song’s nefarious relatives but more or less keeping the darker side of the story out of things. It’s very ‘fairy tale-esque’ in how it goes about telling its story, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing it’s unlikely to appeal to those looking for a genuine horror film. Things do shift considerably in the picture’s last half hour, never getting particularly scary but at least getting weird enough to hold our attention. The supernatural element that is only hinted at in the first two thirds comes into focus and the movie is all the better for it. We don’t get any particularly gory or intense effects set pieces like we’d see in later Shaw genre efforts, but at least the movie does deliver the ghostly antics that its title suggests.

    The art direction in the picture is strong, even if the pacing occasionally lags. Likely shot entirely on one of the Shaw studios’ soundstages the picture has that odd sort of dreamy quality to it that is a hallmark of so many of their films. The performances are a bit uneven. The actor who plays the gambler character really hams it up, and not to the film’s benefit, but Wai-Tiu Lin plays the film’s central male lead with all the nobility and good heartedness you’d expect from someone as pure as his character. The woman who plays Song’s nursemaid is also pretty good here, though it’s very clear in this HD transfer that she’s wearing a lot of age makeup and a not-so-convincing wig. Ching Lee tends to steal every scene she’s in, and not just because she’s beautiful (although that clearly doesn’t hurt). She brings some believable pathos to her character and turns out to be the best part about the film.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Ghost Lovers arrives on Region B Blu-ray from 88 Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on a 25GB disc. Like a lot of the Shaw Brothers Blu-ray’s we’ve seen over the last few years, detail can look a tad soft (some light DNR might have been applied?) but overall this is a solid picture. Black levels are good if a small step away from reference quality while skin tones and color reproduction look pretty solid. Detail is good, and there’s reasonable depth and texture here as well. All in all, this is a perfectly decent transfer devoid of compression artifacts and edge enhancement.

    The LPCM 2.0 Chinese language track on this release is fine. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced. The optional English subtitles, which appear in white texts, are easy to read.

    There are no extras on the disc, just a static menu that offers a play option. As to the packaging, however, this release comes with a pretty cool website exclusive slipcase (when ordered from 88 Films direct) that uses the awesome original poster art. Additionally, we get a reversible sleeve that uses the photo image cover on one side and that aforementioned poster art on the reverse.

    Included inside the Blu-ray case is a color insert booklet containing an essay on the film from Calum Waddell that details the interesting career of the film and (quite rightly) makes the case that Shaw Brothers horror pictures should be more widely regarded in cult movie circles than they currently seem to be.

    The Final Word:

    Ghost Lovers is never frightening and only occasionally atmospheric but despite an early reliance on goofball comedy in a few too many scenes, it’s a genuinely interesting film. The last half hour of the picture is strong and as a precursor for things to come from the studio, the film is definitely a curio. 88 Film’s presentation is pretty much barebones but the presentation is decent. If this isn’t essential, genre fans will certainly appreciate the fact that this genuinely rare film is now available on Blu-ray.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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