... aka: Revenge Ghost of the Tree, The
... aka: Revenge of the Ghost of the Tree
... aka: Revenge of the Tree Ghost
... aka: Sister Lin Tou
Weepy servant girl Mai Hsiu (Feng-Chiao Yen) shows up to a temple late at night praying for her masters and mentioning some kind of "homicide scandal". We then immediately zip into flashback mode to see just what she's crying about in this Taiwanese ghost tale with a period setting. Master Hsi Ping Wu (Shao-Wei Sun) and his wife Hsu Yuen (Szu Shih, in her final film role) are a wealthy, though charitable, couple who do right by their servants and appear to be in good standing in their community. Hsu Yuen even takes it upon herself to educate local hooligans about Buddhism in her free time to help them change their ways. Returning from a long business trip away, Master Wu brings along an amiable new friend; Chuan Chow (David Chiang), to stay with them.
Chuan turns out to be quite the smooth operator. When gangster Liu San (Te-Sheng Wang) shows up demanding money for his Japanese boss about a shipment of camphor (a waxy substance extracted from an evergreen tree of the same name found in East Asia) they never received, Chuan concocts a bogus tale about the merchandise being damaged to drive him away. A young lady, claiming to be Master Wu's now-pregnant lover, and her brother then show up demanding money. This gives Chuan a chance to show off his formidable martial arts skills by kicking the brother's ass and having the two of them thrown out. However, Madame Wu isn't fully convinced her husband didn't actually have an affair with the girl. Still, Chuan has quickly established himself as a welcome and trusted addition to the family.
However, not is all that it appears to be. Chuan, who's secretly plotting against the family, wants Wu's money, property and everything else in his life. Mr. Ito (Kuang-Ning Lin), a corrupt local politician who's conspiring with him, is cool with that as long as he gets the wife in their bargin. After plying him with sake, Chuan gets Master Wu to sign an important paper allowing him to collect a debt for him but in reality opens the doors for him to steal money. Master Wu's dedicated servant Yau (Cheng Ku) tries to warn him about funds disappearing, but he won't hear of it as he's convinced his new friend is the bee's knees. Wu then accompanies Chuan out of town and ends up falling down drunk at a brothel. This gives Chuan the opportunity to have him murdered. He's stabbed in the heart and his body is tossed over a bridge into some crocodile-filled waters. A dismembered leg is found the following morning and a piece of clothing identify it as belonging to Wu.
Immediately after his death, Madame Wu is visited by her late husband's ghost. Doors swing open, wet footprints form on the floors and the place on the bed where the master slept is soaked. She also spots his reflection in a mirror and in a framed portrait. Because rumors start circulating around the village about Chuan still living in their home, Hsu Yuen kindly asks him to leave. He then produces a forged deed with her husband's signature letting her know that he's now the owner of the property. One thing leads to another and Yau the servant takes his own life. Madame Wu then plots to kill Chuan herself, but his goons pin her down on the bed, smother her with a pillow and then take her body into the forest and hang it from a tree. Chuan probably should have reigned in his murder count because he now has not one, not two but three potential ghosts who'll be looking for revenge.
Madame Wu's mournful ghost soon materializes. She really only wants what's best for her three young surviving children, who are constantly at risk from Chuan, who can't decide whether he wants them all killed or merely shipped off somewhere else. Servant girl Hsui, her fiancée Ah Wan (Ya-Tung Sun) and Ah Wan's mother, Auntie Liu (Yin-Shang Liu), all team up to assist the ghost by finding the children and hiding them. The mother, a blind bakery owner who has psychic powers, can "see" the ghost at all times when others cannot and uses magic spells to strike out at the bad guys, who have since transformed the formerly respectable Wu household into a gambling den / whorehouse. Chuan hopes to counteract this by hiring an evil priest (Feng Tien) to help keep the ghost from enacting her revenge. Spell papers, laser-shooting magic mirrors and a "soul sucking sword" are included in their arsenal.
Apparently based on a famous and oft-filmed folk tale, the first half of this is bogged down by endless overwrought melodrama (lots of crying, wailing and suffering!), though this eventually finds its footing in the second half. The ghostly revenge is highlighted by the usage of a "Lin Tao Tree" (the same one Madame Wu was hung from), which has mystical powers. The ghost's soul becomes linked to the difficult-to-destroy tree and also grants her some tree-related powers, like the ability to hurl giant, boulder-like "fruit" at people, using a smaller fruit to trip someone and make them fall to their death, etc. Madame Wu also uses her vine-like hair like a noose to strangle someone, several characters are forced to slit their own throats, a body explodes when it falls in water and the statue of some god called Emperor Kwan (played by Shan Charng) comes to life as a giant to assist our ghostly heroine.
Seemingly completely forgotten, this has been readily available for quite some time on Youtube and other websites, yet has not even managed to generate the five votes needed to register a score on IMDb, nor has it been rated a single time on Letterboxd (though I'll be changing that here shortly). Because of that, I went into this expecting cheap and terrible... but that's not the case here at all. While this is certainly uneven it terms of story and pacing, it's also surprisingly well-directed and handsomely produced. Colors are vivid and there are good sets, costumes and art direction, plus the lighting, camera angles and shot framing are nice throughout. The soundtrack is also good. Then again, it should be since most of it was stolen from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET! I actually wouldn't even mind revisiting this some day if a remastered version with proper English subtitles ever turns up.
I was only able to find a couple of releases for this one. The first is a VHS from South Korea (above, left) and the second is a 2005 DVD from Central Motion Picture out of Taiwan. Seeing how the latter doesn't come with English subs and the widescreen version I watched had them, there had to have also been a release or two in Hong Kong as well.
The director made a number of other genre films, including the anthology BLOOD REINCARNATION (1974), the difficult to find The Seven Coffins (1975), the likewise hard to find Love in the Twilight Zone (1977), the ghost comedy Host for a Ghost (1984) and a pair of Joey Wang vehicles: SPIRIT LOVE (1989) and (his most widely viewed genre film) The Beheaded 1000 aka The Executioner (1991).