Mo Gong Mei Ying / Phantom of the Theatre (2016) - Darkly romantic drama that unfolds its true magic after a weaker opening third - 8/10 (08/05/17)
Phantom of the Theatre is a movie that mixes many genre elements. There are some minor spooky horror influences, a few inspirations from the fantasy genre and some hints at the crime thriller cinema. Despite all these influences, this film is first and foremost a darkly romantic drama set in Shanghai's charming, elegant and lush thirties. Chinese audiences and movie makers seem to have a weakness for this type of movies. The most famous film of this kind is without a doubt the original version of A Chinese Ghost Story. Even though Phantom of the Theatre doesn't come close to equal this milestone of Asian cinema, it's an enchanting and entertaining film for genre fans.
The movie has a few minor flaws. The CGI-ridden special effects look a little bit too artificial. The start of the movie is also quite wooden. It opens with a rather odd scene where a careless thief confronts two scared police officers and ends up dying in an old movie theatre. The introduction to the main characters isn't perfect either as they appear to be quite stereotypical. You meet an abusive investor, an ambitious young filmmaker, an arrogant movie star, an egoistic warlord and an overlooked beauty. The story seems to be quite predictable at first. The young filmmaker will fall in love with the overlooked beauty. The arrogant movie star will be jealous and try to harm the beautiful lady. The greedy investor is also trying to take advantage of her. The egoistic warlord believes the whole world belongs to him and will use his power to get anything he likes. So far, so predictable.
However, as the movie goes on, it develops a certain magic and ends with a climax that I found both emotionally and intellectually stunning. There are several elements that contribute to this rising action. First of all, the settings in the haunted theatre are quite intriguing and become more important than the superficial supernatural elements one gets exposed to in the first third of the film. The costumes are also quite authentic and contribute to an atmosphere that could be borrowed from a fairy tale. The elegant and emotional soundtrack composed of classical pop, folk music and even jazz influences adds to the atmosphere of the movie. The camera cuts become smoother as well and are a welcome change from the numerous contemporary shaky cam productions. The light techniques are even more brilliant and lead from more uplifting moments to more mysterious passages of the film in a coherent manner. The actors and actresses deliver more natural performances and develop a certain chemistry. The most superficial characters recede into the background and only the more intriguing characters remain present throughout the film.
The movie truly starts getting brilliant when a detailed flashback explains us what happened thirteen years before the movie takes place. These scenes are both beautiful and heartbreaking. The showdown leads to a certain twist that could make the audience change its mind about certain characters. The film's ending is quite balanced and neither ends in the most sinister way possible nor as a classic happy end which I found rather creative.
I will let you find out about the rest by yourself. If you like darkly romantic dramas with a nostalgic charm, you will at least appreciate this movie. Don't be discouraged by the negative reviews and the average opening third because you will be rewarded with a soulful rising action and a gripping climax.« Nihon kuroshakai / Ley Lines (1999) - Caught between divergent attitudes and emotions - 6/10 (29/04/17)Tang Shan Da Di Zhen / Aftershock (2010) - An intellectual tearjerker - 7/10 (09/05/17) »
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