90s Far East Bracket: Ye Ban Ge Sheng (The Phantom Lover, 1995)

The second film in my sixth match-up in the first round of the 90s Far East Bracket covers some well tread on ground, but does it make any new tracks of its own?

Written By: Roy Szeto, Bak-Ming Wong & Ronny Yu
Directed By: Ronny Yu

As each second of Ye Ban Ge Sheng ticked by I began to wonder what was holding me back from really liking the film. I liked certain aspects of it, but something that I couldn’t put my finger on was stopping me from saying I actually liked Ye Ban Ge Sheng as a whole. Then it became clear to me, it wasn’t one thing that was holding me back, it was a number of factors that were rolling around in my head screaming, “Dude, this isn’t that good, seriously, use this brain and think something through for once!” It’s a shame that this is the conclusion I came to, because there were certainly elements of Ye Ban Ge Sheng that really caught my attention in the best of ways.

The most glaring inhibitor to me liking Ye Ban Ge Sheng can be found in the disjointed nature of the story. At one point we enter a flashback being told in exposition style of the love between Danping and Yuyan. We stay in that flashback for a good hour, and by the time we return to the present I’ve forgotten all about the characters in that timeline, and why I should care about them in any way. This is a problem that rears its ugly head again in the climax of Ye Ban Ge Sheng, when Wei Qing and Landie get into a fight I actually had to rack my brain to remember who the heck Landie was and why she would be so important to Qing. Ye Ban Ge Sheng feels like two very incomplete movies hammered together because the people behind the film had no idea how to turn either story into a whole movie of its own.

Two of my favorite elements in Ye Ban Ge Sheng were the set design and the art direction. Each set is beautifully immaculate, I completely bought into the time and place the story was supposed to take place in. The art direction is just as superb, the colors were beautiful and the set up of shots always drew my interest more than the actual story being told. That being said I’m still unsure what exactly was going on with the cinematography. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason for when the cinematographer decided to film with the color drained out of scenes, I spent a large chunk of the film struggling to figure out why he/she was doing whatever the heck he/she was doing with the color and I still can’t figure it out.

I realize now that I’m avoiding the three hundred pound elephant in the room as far as my feelings on Ye Ban Ge Sheng are concerned. It’s necessary for someone who really likes Ye Ban Ge Sheng to buy into two things, 1) the melodramatic nature of every moment of the film and 2) the love story presented. I had no problem with the melodramatic aspect of the film, I actually felt that Ronny Yu earned every melodramatic moment with his direction. I did, however, have major problems with the love story. Basically it all boils down to Danping being a fucking moron, and while the film does address this some near the end, it still tries to do so in the frame of mind of “oh, such great love is this,” but my reaction was more of, “dude, your face is scarred, big fucking deal, if it’s true love she won’t give a shit so get over yourself and quit treating your lady friend like shit.” If your idea of true love involves a dude treating his woman like shit for ten years because he has self-esteem issues then Ye Ban Ge Sheng is a movie you’ll love, but I don’t buy that idea of love at all and I didn’t buy Ye Ban Ge Sheng for the most part.

I’m beginning to realize as I move through this Far East bracket that outside of a few directors I’m not a big fan of Hong Kong cinema. Maybe it’s just the films I’ve been watching, but those from Hong Kong seem to be very shallow on story and characters, so much so that I have a hard time getting into the films. Obviously as I said there are exceptions to this, the few directors who fill their works with mood, atmosphere and style, so that even when the story and characters aren’t completely fleshed out there is a lot of substance to be found in said works. Unfortunately Ye Ban Ge Sheng isn’t one of those films from one of those directors, and while I did like some parts of it, when viewed as a whole Ye Ban Ge Sheng is quite the disappointing movie watching experience.




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