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  • Benjamin May

Spiritual Love (1987) Review

A happy-go-lucky young triad named Pu Yung Tsai lives with his eccentric, spiritualist cousin in Hong Kong. After buying an antique desk, he discovers it hides an ancient note. The note is from a woman called Wei Hsiao-tieh, who died years before and is now betrothed to a man she doesn't wish to marry in the afterlife. Following the notes instructions, Pu frees Wei, bringing her ghost back to earth, where the two promptly fall in love. Will Wei and Pu be able to make their unconventional relationship work, or will the machinations of Pu's cousin- as well as his shallow ex-girlfriend- foil their romantic plans?

Directed by David Lai and Taylor Wong, 'Spiritual Love' is a film suffering from severe tonal schizophrenia. It seems the filmmakers didn't know whether they wanted to make a comedy or a drama; and settled for an uneasy mixture of the two. However, screenwriter Stephen Shiu's attempts to balance humor, mysticism and pathos are admirable, and occasionally pay off. The relationship between Pu and Wei is heart-warming, containing many moments that will make you smile. Shiu's characterization is generally strong, and the comedy consistently works well. For the first half of its runtime, 'Spiritual Love' is a lot of fun.

The latter half, though, contains a lot of unnecessary darkness that stands in stark contrast to what came before it. Pu's ex-girlfriend- a horribly one-note caricature throughout- meets an untimely end that is jarringly macabre and quite out of keeping with the tone established up to that point. Furthermore, the last act is depressing, with a maddeningly downbeat ending that has ruinous implications for one of our main characters. This tonal imbalance is strange, incongruous, and severely hampers the impact of the narrative overall.

Considering the quality of the visuals, it may come as a surprise to learn that not one, but two cinematographers worked on the film, Jingle Ma and Derek Wan. Their efforts are underwhelming at best, betraying a lack of interest in the subject matter, presumably, as both proved their abilities on previous projects. Additionally, for a film concerning the occult, Yin Fang's art direction is unexpectedly unexceptional; with little standing out in one's memory.

Where 'Spiritual Love' fares better is the soundtrack, which is atmospheric and upbeat. Wing-leung Chan's tracks are rather catchy, and a couple of the tunes that Pu's cousin sings linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled. While Chan's work takes on a forgettable quality in scenes of high drama, his comedic melodies are consistently entertaining, and his work comes as a boon to proceedings in general.

For all the attributes listed above, 'Spiritual Love' wouldn't have the positive effect it has were it not for the performances by the cast, particularly Chow Yun-Fat and Cherie Chung. They work wonderfully together, sharing a seemingly genuine electric chemistry. Chow- arguably one of the most charismatic performers ever to grace the screen- never sets a foot wrong, making Pu a most amiable rogue, while the beguiling Chung proves to be his match in every regard. Deannie Ip must also be mentioned, as her spirited performance as Pu's spiritualist cousin is a constant source of joy throughout 'Spiritual Love.'

Having said all that, 'Spiritual Love' is a bit of a mixed-bag. While the performances are routinely excellent and Wing-leung Chan's soundtrack is atmospheric, tonal issues- in the latter half especially- hamper the impact of the overall narrative. The cinematography isn't much to write home about either, and the art direction seems somewhat mundane. Though it has its ups-and-downs, 'Spiritual Love'- which flips Cher's eternal question, asking instead if you believe in love after life- has enough on offer to satisfy most.


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