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Hong Kong, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Hong Kong)

Director: Ching Siu-Tung

The second chapter of A Chinese Ghost Story has all the same ingredients as the first: high style, low comedy, explosive special effects, rap renditions of classical Taoist poetry and so on. But the huge international success of the first film has given producer Tsui Hark, director Ching Siu-Tung and their team, a whole new confidence and gusto, and this is one occasion where the sequel outpaces the original.

The story picks up exactly where it left off. Wandering scholar Ning (Leslie Cheung) has scarcely turned his back on the gates of hell before he finds himself befriending a mischievous young monk (Jacky Cheung) and fending off attacks by the decomposing corpse of a giant.

Next up, he is drawn into guerrilla action to free an unjustly imprisoned official. And then he's torn between the love of the official's two daughters - one of whom (Joey Wang) uncannily resembles his ghost-lover from Chapter One. The stage is set for everything from splatter-movie carnage to steamy romantic interludes, not to mention hair-raising villainy perpetrated by shape-changing demons. The array of demonic foes includes a lord of hell who poses as The Buddha, and a climactic monster from a William Burroughs nightmare.

There are vague hints of political allegory in the background, but this is first and foremost genre film-making at its best fast, funny, exhilarating and very, very satisfying. (T.R.)

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