By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Phantom of the Opera,” a novel by Gaston Leroux, was serialized in France between 1909 and 1910, and published in book form later in 1910. A tale of demented love between a beautiful young singer and a scarred musical genius hiding in the bowels of the Paris Opera House, it’s inspired several film versions, notably the 1925 silent classic starring Lon Chaney Sr., stage adaptations, and at least two musicals, including the world-famous Andrew Lloyd Webber version that spawned its own film.
“Phantom of the Theatre,” a new Chinese horror film, put several significant twists into the story. The screenplay, by Manfred Wong, Yang Mei Yuan, and Li Jing Ling, opens on a run-down movie theater that sometimes inexplicably “comes to life” when its lights turns on and its doors unlock.
But the movie theater was not always a movie theater. And as the story rolls along, we learn more of its history.
A history of grandeur and amazing live performances. And darker, scarier things. Deadly things…
I couldn’t quite pin down the date of the action, but it appears to be in the late 1920s or early 1930s, a time of fancy suits, splendorous dresses, and big, smooth cars. Ruby Lin plays Meng Si Fan, a young up-and-coming actress who’s just won a major award. Gu Wei Bang, played by Tony Yang, is a young film director, freshly returned from France, eager to get his first feature made, and looking to Meng Si Fan as his leading lady, and the “haunted” theatre for his location. Gu Wei Bang’s father, a fierce warlord, played by Simon Yam, thinks his only son has turned into a wuss. He has no use for the artistic path. But he has been making eyes at Meng Si Fan.
Without giving away too much of the plot, inexplicable deaths in the theater begin to pile up, leading plenty of people to believe the place is actually haunted. This inspires an increasingly over-the-top scenes of wild fantasy sequences, including a big finish. In the end, the film doesn’t explain everything it should have, and goes on about 20 minutes too long, straining the action. Ruby Lin stands out as an actress who sometimes doesn’t know which part she’s playing. She’s a professional on screen.
She’s a professional, with a respectable career, in real life. But she nails confusion and pain. Longing. And that’s what the Gaston Leroux novel was about in the first place.
“Phantom Of The Theatre” is now playing the Regal Meridian 16 Cinema in Seattle.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.