Erotic Ghost Story (Liao Zhai Yan Tan)
Director – Ngai Kai Lam, Screenplay – Chang Kwan, Producer – Choi Lan
Amy Yip (Fa Fa), Man Su (Bak So So), Chia Ling Ha (Fei Fei), Leslie Cheung (Ng Ming), Chung Lam (Yuen Kue), Manfred Wong (Mr Wong), Chi Chun Ha (Mrs Wong)
Three sisters, Fei Fei, So So and Fa Fa, are fairies that have recently gained human form after being demoted to live as animals. In the temple, So So has lustful thoughts about the god Wutung and is warned by a perceptive Taoist priest. Fa Fa then aids the scholar Ng Ming after he is attacked by bandits. She is drawn to him, even though he avoids contact with women because of his vows. However, the three sisters each end up seducing Ng Ming by accident. The four enjoy many erotic romps together. They then discover that Ng Ming is a demon in human form and that their dalliance with him is causing them to revert to animal form.
Hong Kong cinema, being the third largest industry in the world, is enormously self-imitative. After the amazing hit of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), it was probably inevitable that someone combined Wu Xia fantasy and erotica. (Although to be fair, the Chinese Ghost Story/Erotic Ghost Story connection is only one that has been made by the English-language titling and the Chinese names of either film are very different).
Erotic Ghost Story is the gauzily romanticised, almost girlish, erotica common to Hong Kong cinema – lesbian love scenes between the three sisters take place with the girls writhing in slow-motion in pools of flower petals or under fountains. Alas, director Ngai Kai Lam, while he has made fine films elsewhere, notably the utterly amazing splatter film Story of Ricky (1991), displays little aptitude for directing erotica. The would-be eroticism is crude and unappealing – Ngai has a bad habit of focusing on the highly unerotic images of men slobbering over women’s breasts and hairy legs pumping away between female thighs. Nor does Ngai Kai Lam seem that adept at the frothy bubbliness of Hong Kong comedy – the comedy of errors as the three sisters all contrive to sleep with the same man and the mistake over the cuts on the sister’s body are played straight-faced and fail to dazzle with the dizziness that Hong Kong comedy usually does well. Certainly, Erotic Ghost Story lacks the sublime comic charm and intensely erotic set-pieces of the subsequent classic Sex and Zen (1991), which also featured Amy Yip.
There is not much of a plot to Erotic Ghost Story. The first half is slow and takes a long time to develop any direction. Certainly, the film takes some weird changes of tone throughout, at first seeming a comedy of errors as the three sisters all contrive to become involved with the scholar, before doing a bizarre turnaround to head into horror territory with the scholar transforming into a three-headed demon. The story, at least in the subtitled English translation, never clearly explains who the sisters are – at one point calling them vixens, another foxes – or why their reincarnation is such a big issue. Their being fairies is ultimately irrelevant to the story. It is also noticeable that despite the title promise of the title, there are no ghosts in the film.
About halfway through, Erotic Ghost Story then turns into an erotic take on The Witches of Eastwick (1987). The source is blatant as Ngai Kai Lam even replicates the scene where Jack Nicholson uses sympathetic magic to cause Veronica Cartwright to spew up cherry pips. Ngai then proceeds onto a nasty scene where Leslie Cheung’s scholar (playing the equivalent Nicholson part) digs out the interior of a pineapple with a knife, which causes the nosy neighbour (Chi Chun Ha)’s vagina to be scoured and her to turn to her husband in heat. Ngai seems more at home with the horror element that emerges out of nowhere at the end than with the erotic scenes – he offers up at least one wild image of the scholar transforming into a three-headed demon slavering over a naked woman he had tied up. It all ends on a standard Wu Xia climax with the sisters and scholar battling one another with swords, cloth and magic, although Ngai fails to mount this to anything particularly spectacular.
Erotic Ghost Story was a big success and resulted in two sequels, the much more imaginative Erotic Ghost Story II (1991) and the routine Erotic Ghost Story III (1992). There was a fourth film Erotic Ghost Story – Perfect Match (1997), although this is an entry from another company posing as a sequel and is unrelated, as is the further Chinese Erotic Ghost Story (1998).
Director Ngai Kai or Ngai Choi Lam has made a number of other genre entries including:- the ghost comedy Ghost Busting (1986); the wacky horror film The Seventh Curse (1986); the revenge film Her Vengeance (1988); the Wu Xia fantasy Peacock King (1988) and its sequel Saga of the Phoenix (1990); the splatter film Story of Ricky (1991); and the body hopping aliens film The Cat (1992).