... aka: L'ombre enchanteresse (The Enchanting Shadow)
... aka: Qiannü youhun
Han Hsiang Li
I've always wanted to put together a comprehensive list of all the horror films produced by Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers, so now's as good a time as any! In the early years, back when SB was still being called Shaw and Sons Ltd., they first dipped their toes into the genre pool with 1954's Ren gui lian (Beyond the Grave); an adaptation of a ghost story by Songling Pu. Like many other early Asian supernatural / ghost films, elements of drama and romance are far more pronounced than the horror content. That doesn't appear to be the case with Anak Pontianak / Son of the Vampire (1958), a sequel to 1957's Pontianak, which centers around a female bloodsucker and her werewolf son and was a Shaw Bros. co-production with Singapore's Malay Film Productions. Unlike with Beyond the Grave and the first Pontianak (which is believed to be missing for good), a (very bad) copy of this film is actually available to view but only in its original language. Following that were a pair of 1959 releases; Chun Yen's Si wang de yue hui (Appointment with Death) and See Luk Chow's Jiang shi fu chou (The Vengeance of the Vampire), neither of which appears to have been released on home video anywhere nor are available to view and are also potentially M.I.A. And that brings us up to 1960 and The Enchanting Shadow, which is generally considered Shaw's very first horror offering despite technically not being its first horror offering. It's certainly more widely-seen than what came before it and has been issued on both VHS and DVD (from Celestial Pictures). The rest of the SB horror list will continue down below but, first, the movie at hand...
Young traveling scholar Ning Caichen (Lei Zhao) arrives in a busy village but is unable to find a hotel to stay in for a few nights because they're all full of soldiers and refugees due to an uprising of warlords and military turmoil. He's told that there's the Jinhua Temple ten miles away in the mountains if he's desperate but is warned not to stay there because everyone thinks it's haunted. Not only that, but it's also believed that every single person who's attempted to spend the night there has mysteriously died. The educated Caichen isn't about to let local superstition get the better of him so he offers to pay a carriage driver extra to just drop him off near the front gate. Upon arrival, Ning meets an older man named Yan Chixia (Chih-Ching Yang), who used to be a heroic swordsman but is now a hermit hiding away from all of the war and chaos. He's staying at the temple, he says, only temporarily, until things blow over. The men share a drink, talk and become friendly, but once a wind chime sounds, Chixia recommends his new friend hit the sack early.
Staying up late writing, Caichen is awoken by music. He follows the sounds to another wing of the temple and discovers a young woman, Xiaoqian Nie (Betty Loh Ti), talking to the moon about her loneliness, strumming a guqin and writing poetry. Xiaoqian lives in a nicer part of the temple with her grandmother Lao Lao (Rhoqing Tang), who stays busy playing games with her friends. Xiaoqian and Caichen eventually bump into each other, work on a poem together to accompany one of her paintings of mandarin duck and it's basically love at first sight... at least for her. When Granny catches them together, she angrily accuses Caichen of trying to seduce her granddaughter, calls him a “shameless playboy” and “an obscene rascal” and banishes him from their residence. Little does she know (or maybe she does), the real seductress is her granddaughter, who sneaks off to Caichen's room moments later and attempts to put the moves on him. He respectfully rejects her advances and sends her on her way.
The following day, Caichen goes into the nearest town and sees Xiaoqian wandering into a building. He follows and, though she's nowhere to be found, her duck painting graces one of the walls. He's then informed by an old man that the painting has been hanging there for years and the girl who painted it, the daughter of a governor passing through the area, died ten years ago. After he returns to the temple, Xiaoqian visits Caichen once again, this time claiming her granny found out about her visiting his room and beat her. She begs Caichen to take her away from there, claiming she'll work as his maid and even attempts to give him a valuable gold gift, but he refuses both. Later that night, another scholar staying there (Hsiang Su) and his servant (Lee Kwan) turn up dead, both with puncture wounds on the bottom of their feet. Xiaoqian eventually confesses to being a ghost, but claims that she's at the whim of the evil old woman, who's actually a witch who kills nearly every traveler who dares to stay there.
The basis for this is the same basis of Shaw's earlier Beyond the Grave: Songling Pu's Liaozhai Zhiyi, or Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. This collection of nearly 500 short stories, primarily ones about ghosts, creatures and / or the supernatural, was first published sometime in the mid 1700s and didn't see an English translation until 1880. Enchanting Shadow is based on one of the stories in the collection called Nie Xiaoqian, which was later re-filmed much more famously as A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). In fact, it's pretty obvious Tsui Hark viewed this earlier version before making his own since a lot has been carried over into it, visually and otherwise. It's actually as much a remake of this film as it is an adaptation of the story.
While Shadow in poorly dated in some respects (especially some painfully corny music cues) and may lack the kinetic action set pieces of Hark's film, it makes up for that with a splendid visual presentation. The entire film was shot on sets, giving it an almost fairy tale-like quality that I really enjoyed. The art direction, sets, costumes, lighting and makeup effects are all excellent and it was gorgeously shot by Luying He in deep, rich Eastmancolor. The score is a mix of traditional Chinese music (including several songs performed by the cast) and what sounds like Theremin for the spookier parts. After playing at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival and being nominated for the Palme d'Or, it was chosen as Hong Kong's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 33rd Academy Awards, but lost out to the likes of Macario from Mexico and The Virgin Spring (which ended up eventually winning) from Sweden.
Oh yes, and before I forget, here's the rest of the Shaw Brothers horror / horror-related catalogue (not including this one and the four already discussed above). I've scoured various websites to compile this, but if you see any movies missing, please let me know and it'll be added...
Beyond the Grave (1954), Son of the Vampire (1958; co-production with Malay Film Productions), Appointment with Death (1959), The Vengeance of the Vampire (1959), The Enchanting Shadow (1960), A Night of Thrills (1960; aka A Night of Terror), Mid-Nightmare: Part 2 (1963), Lady Jade Locket (1967), The Brain Stealers (1968), Dear Murderer (1969), Raw Passions (1969), The Enchanting Ghost (1970), Hellgate (1970), THE BRIDE FROM HELL (1971), Come Haunt With Me (1971), Mission Impossible (1971), THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1973), Ghost Eyes (1974), The Ghost Lovers (1974), The Killer Snakes (1974), The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974; co-produced with Britain's Hammer Pictures), BLACK MAGIC (1975), Evil Seducers (1975), Fearful Interlude (1975), Night of the Devil's Bride (1975), BLACK MAGIC, PART II (1976), The Criminals (1976), The Oily Maniac (1976), The Web of Death (1976), The Criminals 2: Homicides (1976), The Snake Prince (1976), Spirit of the Raped (1976), Cobra Girl (1977), The Criminals 3: Arson (1977), The Criminals 4: Assault (1977), The Criminals 5: The Teenager's Nightmare (1977), Fangs of the Cobra (1977), The Mighty Peking Man (1977), Bank Busters (1978), The Psychopath (1978), The Ghost Story (1979), Heaven and Hell (1979), Return of the Dead (1979), Haunted Tales (1980), HEX (1980), HEX VERSUS WITCHCRAFT (1980), Lost Souls (1980), Avengers from Hell (1981), BEWITCHED (1981), Bloody Parrot (1981), CORPSE MANIA (1981), Revenge of the Corpse (1981), Curse of Evil (1982), The Fake Ghost Catchers (1982), Hell Has No Boundary (1982), HEX AFTER HEX (1982), Human Lanterns (1982), Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave (1982), THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983), Ghosts Galore (1983), Portrait in Crystal (1983), Seeding of a Ghost (1983), Sex Beyond the Grave (1984), The Siamese Twins (1984).