Review: Hong Kong Dance Company brings to life a tale of love beyond death

Impressive special effects and exceptional performances make for an affectionate, entertaining tribute to a popular classic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 2:00pm

This production is inspired by an iconic film from Hong Kong cinema’s golden age: the 1987 A Chinese Ghost Story, which stars Joey Wong Cho-yee and the late Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing.

Choreographer Yang Yuntao’s affectionate, entertaining tribute to this much-loved local classic is distinguished by striking special effects and fine performances.

The plot originates with a tale in 17th century writer Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. An innocent young man, Ning Caichen, seeks refuge from a thunderstorm in an abandoned temple. There he encounters a beautiful woman, Nie Xiaoqian, with whom he becomes infatuated. What he doesn’t know is that she is a ghost under the power of the evil Tree Demon, who forces her to seduce the living and drain their life force.

Yang has reduced the number of characters and cut many scenes from the film to focus on the love story.

Although it’s a pity there isn’t more of the romantic comedy element that makes A Chinese Ghost Story so charming, Chen Jun’s touchingly naive Ning and Tang Ya’s wistful Nie are delightful and their main duet is beautifully danced.

Above all, L’Amour Immortel meets the challenge of the supernatural scenes superbly, producing some genuinely scary moments. The attack on Ning by the demons, the battle with the Tree Demon and Nie’s descent into the netherworld are splendidly imagined. The Chinese opera passage which leads Ning to discover the true nature of his beloved also stands out.

While in a dance context the story, with its vengeful female ghosts and theme of selfless love beyond death may recall Giselle, the plot is much thinner and the narrative needs strengthening.

As with Yang’s previous Storm Clouds, more detail and clarity are required to realise the drama fully. An example is the failure to give the lovers a moment of farewell before Nie floats off into the sunrise, an omission which makes for an unsatisfying ending.

Billy Tang’s spectacular lighting brilliantly evokes the underworld and transforms the female ghosts from seductive to spine-chilling in the blink of an eye.

Tsang Man-tung’s elegant sets and Eddy Mok’s costumes are excellent and composer Ng Cheuk-yin has crafted an effective score from the film’s music.

L’Amour Immortel

Hong Kong Dance Company, Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Reviewed: November 28, 3pm