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A small theatre group puts up shop in a haunted theatre to perform a
series of operas. Leading man Xiao Ou (Shi Chao) though seems not quite up to the
task to sing the first of the series, so he spends a night alone at the
theatre to practice ... and runs across Song Danping (Jin Shan), a legendary opera
singer who's believed dead. Song though is very much alive, even if he
hides his face, and he halps Xiao Ou master his part, and also tells him
his tragic story: Years ago, Song was a revolutionary, and at the same
time very much in love with Xia (Hu Ping), a girl the theatre's landlord Tang
(Gu Menghe) also
longed for - and to get his rival out of the way, Tang poured nitric acid
into Song's face, acid that disfigured Song to a point where he had
himself declared dead rather than ever be seen by Xia again. Since then,
Xia has lived across the street from the theatre, while Song, hiding out
in the theatre, has sung her songs every night.
Back in the now, Song
asks Xiao Ou to meet Xia posing as Song and be her mate in his stead ...
but unfortunately, Xiao Ou is already engaged to Liu Die (Xu Manli). So Song asks for
another favour, that one of his revolutionary operas is performed by the
theatre troupe, to which Xiao Ou agrees, since the troupe is doing bad
business anyways ...
As it turns out, the theatre's landlord Tang, who
has disfigured Song's face all those years back, is now lusting after Xiao
Ou's girlfriend Liu Die, and when she refuses him because of Xiao Ou he
tries to shoot Xiao Ou in the unrest following the premiere of Song's
revolutionary opera, but Liu Die catches the bullet meant for him and dies
saving his life. Upon this, Song leashes an all-out attack on Tang and
kills him, but now the authorities see him as the culprit and chase him to
his death, a chase that also causes the theatre to catch fire.
Xiao Ou in
the meantime meets up with Xia, and it seems according to Song's wishes
they are about to become a couple ...
An early horror/monster
movie from China (it's actually said to be the first Chinese horror film) that definitely has its creepy moments and nice ideas,
and it's carried by a gothic romance-like plot in front of a series of
atmospheric sets. And it's really interesting to see how the film takes
many influences from Western horror movies, including of course the silent
Phantom of the Opera
with Lon Chaney, Universal's
Frankenstein movies and the like, but adds an unmistakably
Chinese touch to them. That all said, the film is not perfect though, the
directorial effort for the most part is way too theatrical to really
convince, and the pacing might be deliberately slow, but in all the story
(clocking in at roughly two hours) could have done with a bit of trimming to keep things moving smoother.
That all said, the film is still rather impressive as a not all that
different counterpiece to horror films from the West, and definitely worth
a look at least.