THE LOVERS Starring Nicky Wu Chi-lung, Charlie Young Cho-mei, Carrie Ng Kar-lai, Elvis Tsui Kam-kong. Directed By Tsui Hark. Category I. Coming to the Gala circuit. THIS tragic story that has inspired countless Chinese movies and operas (under the name The Butterfly Lovers) has now fallen, rather oddly, into the hands of Tsui Hark, a director better known for action films. But what a fine job he has done with this tale that has been circulating in China since 300 AD. Tsui, who has only directed or produced a handful of dramas in his prolific career, tends to shy away from emotional scenes. But with The Lovers, the director has more than 110 minutes to work on emotional content and and he does it effectively. The biggest surprise, though, comes from the two young leads, Wu and Young, both Taiwanese-born pop-singing idols in Hong Kong who are relatively new to acting. There's a chemistry between them that makes their performances more then absorbing. The story is set in the dynastic period of around 377 AD. Chuk Ying-toi is the spoiled daughter of a low-ranking but social-climbing official who wants her to marry into the more affluent Ma family. But fearing Ying-toi's lack of education may hurt her marriage prospects, her father disguises her as a boy and enrols her at a prestigious males-only college. There she falls in love with a poor classmate, Leung Shan-pak, who initially can't respond with similar feelings because he thinks she is a boy. It is not until Shan-pak is about to leave the college that Ying-toi's identity is revealed and love blossoms. But fate and class differences are pitted against the pair. Ying-toi is ordered home to hasten her marriage into the Ma family. Later, Shan-pak is caught and severely beaten in an attempt to elope with Ying-toi, who is then locked in her room until the wedding. Shan-pak dies of a broken heart. En route to the wedding, a sudden strong wind forces the bridal sedan carrying Ying-toi to stop right by Shan-pak's grave. Ying-toi's lament moves the heavens and the grave splits open, allowing her to jump in to join her lover. Their spirits were turned into butterflies, to symbolise their freedom. A classic tale, an excellent score - the main theme being based on the famous erhu/violin concerto - and the colour-filtered cinematography all contribute to make The Lovers one of the best local films this year. Perhaps it will be the box office hit the respected producer-cum-director badly needs after the disastrous Green Snake.