A striking Asian variation on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA theme, THE PHANTOM LOVER is Gothic romantic tragedy at its finest.
In 1936 Peking, a theatrical troupe moves into a dilapidated theater where they are to stage their productions. One of the group, Wei Qing (Huang Lei) sees a ghostly figure in the building's shadows, and the place's old caretaker tells him its history. Ten years ago, the structure was an opera
house where Song Danping (Leslie Cheung) was the star, an idol to many women in the area. But his heart belonged to Du Yunyan (Wu Chien-lien), the daughter of a prominent local businessman who disapproved of her consorting with Song. Yunyan was betrothed to the son of politician Mr. Zhao, who had
a major deal going with Yunyan's father. A terrible fire burned down the theater, apparently killing Song, and the marriage between Yunyan and Zhao's son went ahead. But when it was discovered she was not a virgin, Yunyan was cast out by her family, who subsequently moved away, and is now a
madwoman roaming the city's streets.
Wei soon discovers that the apparition he saw is Song, still alive and hiding in the theater, horribly scarred but still pining for Yunyan, who has come to the building every full moon hoping to see him. Song encourages Wei to mount a production of Romeo and Juliet, the opera he was performing
before the fire (which he reveals was set by the Dus and the Zhaos). Song assists Wei with the singing from offstage. The Zhaos arrive in town on political business, and when the son discovers Yunyan in the street, he viciously beats her. Wei realizes that Song is attempting to "live again"
through him and confronts Song, urging him to step out of the shadows. This he does, and with Wei's help, he exposes the Zhaos' treachery. Song is then reunited with Yunyan and they ride out of town in a carriage together.
While it contains no overt supernatural elements, THE PHANTOM LOVER is very much in the tradition of director Ronny Yu's previous THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, combining Gothic themes and eerie imagery with a heartfelt story of two lovers torn apart by social and familial forces. While the earlier
film concentrated more on special effects, THE PHANTOM LOVER aims directly for the heart.
Hong Kong pop star Cheung is perfectly cast as Song, putting his haunting singing voice to good use. He also collaborated on the songs with composer Chris Babida, whose instrumental score is lush and evocative. Wu is ravishing and heartbreaking as the object of Song's desire, and Huang well
captures both Wei's initial naivete and his eventual boldness in forcing Song to reveal himself.
The film's wide-screen visuals are frequently breathtaking, with sumptuous photography by Peter Pau. The 1936 sequences are in sepia tones, while only the lengthy flashback to Song and Yunyan's story is presented in full, rapturous color. The rest of the film is just a notch less compelling, and
the climactic events seem a bit rushed, but overall this is an immensely powerful experience. (Violence, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: A striking Asian variation on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA theme, THE PHANTOM LOVER is Gothic romantic tragedy at its finest. In 1936 Peking, a theatrical troupe moves into a dilapidated theater where they are to stage their productions. One of the group, Wei… (more)