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October 04, 2016

Phantom of the Theatre

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Mo gong mei ying
Raymond Yip - 2016
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Phantom of the Theatre mostly takes place in 1930s Shanghai, at that time the center of Chinese filmmaking. And for the first few minutes, it appeared that Raymond Yip's film would take on the look of a film from that era. Those few moments are left behind, though what I did like was Yip's embrace of filming several scenes on a large set meant to duplicate a Shanghai street. That street is about a realistic as what might have been found on the MGM lot, with Vincente Minnelli calling the shots. The fakery is especially undeniable when Tony Yang is alone in the street, crying in anguish.

Yang plays a young filmmaker, Weibang, who's debut film is a ghost story, filmed in the theater where an acrobatic troupe died in a fire thirteen years ago. The troupe's final show was a private performance for Weibang, arranged by his father, an influential warlord. Rumor has it that the theater is haunted, and we see several characters die by what appears to be spontaneous combustion. Weibang's girlfriend is a doctor who figures out what what is really causing the horrifying deaths of the victims. Not that Manfred Wong's script explains everything, but a quasi-scientific explanation is required for Mainland China approval. Less critical viewers might also be more accepting of the overload of coincidences that bring the characters together.

I love movies about filmmaking. Those first few minutes of Phantom of the Theatre suggest a different kind of film. Five actresses are competing to be named the Screen Queen. The established diva wins, but the up and coming actress gets a special prize for being photogenic. The young writer-director, hoping to get his dream project made, hopes to interest the established actress. Neither she, nor the younger star have time for the young man, who finds his script scattered on the floor. There was the potential for a screwball comedy with dueling divas, and an earnest young filmmaker caught between the two women, and the financiers who try to control everything behind the scenes.

That's not this film. Still, there are some nice moments with the characters lost in dreams and hallucinations. There is a phantom, and he it's sufficient to say he's not pretty. There is sympathy for the villainous characters of the phantom and the warlord, played by Simon Yam, the most well-known actor in the cast. As soon as the explanations for the mayhem are revealed, the intrigue dissipates, kind of like the ghosts who disappear as puffs of smoke.

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Posted by peter at October 4, 2016 07:38 AM