]bqn (1995)
The Phantom Lover

Reviewed by: Libretio
Date: 10/21/2005
Summary: The most resplendent HK movie ever made - a classic


Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Panavision)
Sound format: DTS

The late and much-lamented teen idol Leslie Cheung toplines Ronny Yu's superb Gothic melodrama THE PHANTOM LOVER as a famed actor in 1920's China whose affair with the daughter (Jacklyn Wu) of a scheming industrialist is opposed by their respective families, culminating in a terrible disaster which consumes the magnificent theater in which Cheung made his fortune. Ten years later, an impoverished theatrical troupe restores the now-derelict building, and the principal actor (Huang Lei, from Chen Kaige's LIFE ON A STRING [1991]) finds Cheung living amongst the ruins, a phantom-like recluse who hides his disfigured face from the world which once adored him. But the villainous factions which drove the ill-fated lovers apart are still active, and history begins to repeat itself, with potentially tragic consequences...

THE PHANTOM LOVER arguably ranks alongside John Woo's BULLET IN THE HEAD (1990) as one of the crowning achievements of Hong Kong cinema. With spectacular Gothic sets designed by the late Eddie Ma and swooping camerawork by world-class cinematographer Peter Pau (whose expansive images demonstrate the full potential of the Panavision frame), this sublime masterpiece represents a sensational marriage of old-fashioned storytelling with cinematic technique. The fast-moving narrative is heightened constantly by director Yu's operatic filmmaking style, a style he had perfected two years earlier in his acclaimed fantasy THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993), providing a near-perfect synthesis of plot, characterization and technical virtuosity. The script (by Roy Szeto, Raymond Wong and director Yu) is essentially a reworking of SONG OF MIDNIGHT (1937), an early effort by pioneering Chinese horrormeister Ma-xu Weibang, though Yu's film emphasizes atmosphere and melodrama over outright horror, and the film's central section - the heartbreaking disintegration of Cheung's relationship with Wu - is played to perfection by an attractive cast, and nicely underscored by Chris Babida's melancholy score. The only false note is sounded by Cheung's contribution to the soundtrack, a handful of feeble songs which fail to convey an appropriate sense of heartache and tragedy. Such blatant insincerity may help to explain his ambivalent attitude to the film since its initial release.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/05/2002

I finally watched this one and was quite disappointed. While this movie is gorgeous to look at with absolutely stunning cinematography, I never quite bought into the story. This was supposed to be a touching love story with larger than life emotions, but I found it rather hollow, hardly fleshed out and bordering on kitsch, with every melodramatic plot contrivance known to man (or readers of romance fiction, anyway) thrown into the mix. Leslie Cheung and the lovely Wu Chien Lien try very hard, and they are certainly nice to look at, but their efforts to make the romance believable are betrayed by the weak script...

Also, I thought the music was totally out of place with the period setting. Shmaltzy Cantopop at its worst. It's a shame, I really wanted to like this movie, but didn't.

Reviewed by: ElectraWoman
Date: 01/21/2001
Summary: 3/10-Blah, pretentious crap

I disliked this film. For me, it was trying to be all artsy-fartsy, but falls flat on its face. A nonsensical plot and annoying Canto-pop soundtrack. Just about the only thing going for it is how beautiful the film looks, and the nice costumes. This film gets a big BLAH from me.

Reviewed by: kjohnson
Date: 12/09/1999

Good but not great. High production values--a rarity in Hong Kong movies this year. Great sets and photography--a very nice film to watch. On the down side, the story was too simple and the Chinese characters at the side of the screen while the characters were singing made you feel that it was a music video rather than the film's character singing on a stage. I think this movie may have been aimed at women (particularly Leslie fans). It's very romantic and the sexiest characters are the two guys! The version I saw was in Cantonese with Chinese and English subs. Well-done subs, too!

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Leslie Cheung plays actor and composer Song Danping. Afterbuilding the operahouse of his dreams, he plans to marry his lover, Ng Sin Lin, but her parents have already made arrangements for her to marry the son of of one of their colleagues in order to expand their factory. Knowing that Ng and Cheung are determined to marry anyway, the wicked father of the groom makes sure that Song Danping is taken out of the equation while Ng Sin Ling is locked away until the date of her wedding. There aren't many surprises here, and those familiar with the original story will be disappointed in the simplistic manor it is retold. In essence, it is the story of The Phantom of the Opera without any blood and guts, kind of a Disney version of the original. To sum up, reasons to see The Phantom Lover: 1) Leslie sings and performs through half of the film, 2) Incredible costumes and incredible set design recreating a 1930's mystique, 3) Cameo appearance by Philip Kwok (Hardboiled; Treasure Hunt). All in all, the rest is just fluff. I would only suggest seeing this film if you are a big fan of Leslie Cheung. Oh, and one other note, this film is in Mandarin with English-only subs.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Herbster]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

A strange mix of Merchant/Ivory production values, soppy Canto-pop, and Phantom of the Opera (the musical), with a little Romeo and Juliet thrown tossed in as a red herring. It's 1920, and a songwriter/actor (Leslie Cheung) is in love with the daughter (Wu Xian Lian, one of the most beautiful women alive) of an influential industrialist. But when her arranged marriage with a drooling cad is announced by her parents, powers in both families orchestrate a plot to kill Cheung and keep his lover under house arrest. The film's plot is rather soapish, with washed-out sepia tones for most of it's length, but the sets (an old theater, bustling street scenes, parlors of the rich) are almost as impressive as the impressionistic lighting. Not quite a triumph of filmcraft over material, but Wu Xian Lian is a sight (have I already mentioned that?).


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 5