A mysterious presence inside a movie theater leads to this meshing of genres from the creative mind of Manfred Wong with direction by Raymond Yip.
Thirteen years ago, the Kong Family Acrobatic Troupe performed for Gu Wei-Bang, the son of a local general on his birthday. However, that night was also a fateful night where the members of the troupe perished in a fire in the very same theater. It has been believed that since that fateful night, the theater has been haunted. When a thief enters the theater to evade the cops, he is met with a fate that left him burned alive from within.
A now grown up Wei-Bang has returned from France to bring his knowledge of filmmaking to the city. An attempt to get his script out there attracts the attention of producer Tang Shirao. Wei-Bang plans to make a ghost story set inside the now renovated theater. He finds his leading actress in the aspiring Meng Si-Fan, whom Tang has eyes for despite having a relationship with renowned film queen Pan Ruyu. As production begins, a series of mysterious deaths begin to occur, starting with the death of leading actor Liu Kang. When Wei-Bang decides to take the lead role himself, more deaths begin to occur. Is the legend true or is something more sinister in store for this film crew?
From the getgo, one can immediately see this as a Chinese horror version of Gaston Leroux’s famous Phantom of the Opera and while there are shades of that story, this film from director Raymond Yip and writer-producer Manfred Wong meshes horror, notably ghost story with a dash of slasher film, and romance. This is one of those films may seem a bit on the predictable side, but that is not the case. As a matter of fact, Wong’s collaboration on the script with Hana Li and Yang Mei-Yuan allows not only a juxtaposition of flashbacks and present-day (in this case 1950’s China from the looks of it) displays a series of twists to the story that will leave you guessing until the very end.
Ruby Lin, who also serves as an executive producer on the film, is exciting to watch as Meng Si-Fan, an aspiring actress who is given a chance to showcase her acting talent in a new ghost story. She also has two other roles as Kong Jin, a member of the doomed troupe and her sister Lan. Tony Yang is also great to watch as Gu Wei-Bang, who like Lin’s Meng, has dreams and aspirations, in his case, becoming a successful filmmaker much to the chagrin of his father, played by the always great Simon Yam. Yam is one of those actors who even in a bad movie makes his presence felt. First, this is not a bad movie at all, far from it. Yam makes his role as a domineering commander work.
Cecil Cheng’s visual effects are truly a highlight of the film, showcasing the apparent ghosts of the doomed acrobatic troupe whom now plague the theater. However, the titular phantom is actually a human and when their identity is revealed, Cheng did quite a nice job with the make-up effects of this phantom. The film’s deaths, all done in a way that brings reminiscence of Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame, are done nicely as well and are just one of many exciting twists shown in the third act of the film.
Phantom of the Theatre is one of those films that you may not want to take your eyes off because it may have a love story involved but also meshes ghost story with a taste of the slasher film, with twists that will just make you stay until the end.
WFG RATING: B+
Bona Film Group Co. Ltd. presents a Hangzhou Heirun Film Co. Ltd./Dongyang Hongjing Film & Television Culture Co. Ltd./Bona Entertainment Co. Ltd. production. Director: Raymond Yip.
Producer: Manfred Wong. Writers: Manfred Wong, Hana Li, and Yang Mei-Yuan. Cinematography: Michael Tsui. Editing: Zhao Zheng-Chao.
Cast: Ruby Lin, Tony Yang, Simon Yam, Jing Gang-Shan, Huang Huan, Jungle Lin, Natalie Meng, Wu Xudong, Bobo Hu.