The Enchanting Shadow ★★★★½

A non-musical Li Han-hsiang film, an adaptation of the same source material as the late 80s Tsui Hark/Ching Siu-tung masterpiece A Chinese Ghost Story (the story comes from Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, a collection of tales composed in the late 1600s and published in 1740). Made in 1960, it's weird to see a Shaw Brothers film that not only doesn't begin with the familiar anthem and shield logo, but is in Academy ratio rather than Shawscope. But the colors, sets and costumes are unmistakably Shaw.

A traveling scholar (a tax collector in fact) arrives in a remote town and decides to stay for a couple of days in a nearby abandoned temple, despite warnings that the temple is haunted. There he meets a mysterious swordsman who seems nice enough and, late at night, helps a pretty girl (superstar Betty Loh Ti) compose some poetry. And then the girl is a ghost.

In a stark contrast to the later film, a hallmark of Tsui and Ching's whiplash style, effects-driven and dizzying in pace and editing, Li's story seems like a whisper. All the same beats are hit, but effortlessly. There are some spooky images, decent performances from the men in the supporting cast and a soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place in a Star Trek episode, but what lingers is Loh's ephemeral artist, jealous of the ducks in the pond.

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