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Picture of a Nymph (Hua zhong xian, 1988)

Wu Ma

Hong Kong

94 mins, color, Cantonese (English subtitles)

There's no nymph in the film, but there is a picture. It should have been called A Picture of a Ghost, but then the parallels with A CHINESE GHOST STORY would be too close for comfort. It's pretty darn close as it is. Joey Wang plays the charming ghost in both films, and the Taoist priest (who also helms this outing) is the very same dancing/singing/fighting Wu Ma. The plot is variations on a theme. There's the hapless love-struck scholar (Lawrence Ng), and this time, the other ghostbuster is the priest's adopted son (Yuen Biao, one of the Seven Little Fortunes). There's a lot of ghost-chasing but no really creepy sequences, except maybe one, where a female ghost sort of plucks her eyeballs back in (or something).

The story revolves around the angry King Ghost (Elizabeth Lee), who's really a queen, and a pretty one at that, who is pissed because she got killed before getting married or "knowing love" (tm). So she's vowed to keep all lovers from being happy, toward which end she kidnaps brides. That's how Joey Wang ends up a ghost. She falls for the scholar, who falls for her, and they both fall on some hard times as spiritual and physical entities try to separate them. At one point she hides in a portrait that he has painted, which is where the title comes from. At its core, A PICTURE OF A NYMPH is a love story with a supernatural twist. Although not as innovative as the film it rips, is it quite surreal at times, and is beautifully photographed as well.

The DVD transfer is very clean, although there are some speckles now and then. The music is just awful, with the same Chinese pop soundtrack that is so annoying in similar films. Why they don't hire a decent composer is beyond me. It really spoils the effect when you have a gentle ghost gliding through a magical landscape at the accompaniment of Chinese disco. It just does not work. Anyway, the film is definitely family fare, and quite fun to watch, there's even a shallow philosophical point of the Beatles' "all you need is love" variety, except the ending is a bit Orphic. A must of Joey Wang fans, for sure.

April 16, 2001. BLS