Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Dunce Bumps into the Ghost

Chinese Halloween Opera Bouffe! A Halloween movie you won't see anywhere but on a site like this. It's from 呆佬遇鬼, "The Dunce Bumps into a Ghost" (1957). You don't need to speak Cantonese to get it.The umbrella is walking by itself because it's possessed by a ghost. The man in the silk gown 劉克宣 Lau Hak-suen) is a loanshark. He grabs a piece of chicken off the servant but it turns into a joss candle (used in prayers) Then at his banquet the meal turns into paper offerings for the dead. A kid pees into the enamel spittoon, and the ghost empties the pot on the man's head. Then the umbrella comes in and the ghost appears. It's a young woman (紫羅蓮 Tse Law-lin) whom the man has conned and she's come for revenge.

The real star is the incomparable 紫羅蓮 Leung Sing por (1908-81), the "Dunce" of the title. He was a megastar, who sang dozens of opera roles and also made over 400 movies of all kinds. In this one he plays a humble repairer of wax umbrellas to whom the ghostly maiden appears because she needs help nailing the villain, and Leung's character is a nice, honest man. Leung gets to show his comedy skills, and act, and sing! This is a wonderful example of the way Chinese culture embraces a combination of genres: opera, movies, popular song, comedy, spooks, social comment, art and entertainment. In the west, so many barriers between genres.

Leung Sing por becomes the ghost's enabler. No-one can see her, they just see him talking to the umbrella. He helps the ghost cross water (they can't do that on their own) and go to a temple. (During this scene shot on a real village shrine a passerby runs past behind him. It's not in the script, these movies were shot on location, and ordinary people did get caught on camera). The papers he scatters in his path are "ghost money", blessed in the shrine, that give the spirit easy passage. The crooked businessman calls in crooked Daoist exorcists in to catch the ghost. I wish I could find those scenes as they are great folklore. Fancy ceremonies and conga lines of captured ghosts hopping in a line like zombies following the exorcist. But not this time. This lady ghost wreaks havoc!

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