After studying filmmaking in France, Gu Weibang (Tony Yo-ning Yang) has returned to Shanghai with a script he’s ready to begin filming. He’s missing one major component, a leading actress who can make the material her own as well as have a marketable enough name to ensure success. He takes his ghost story to a local awards ceremony where he tries to interest one of the biggest stars. She brushes him off but it’s rising star Meng Si-Fan (Ruby Lin) who captures his attention. After they meet again later and Weibang helps her in a stressful situation, she agrees to star in the film. He finds an amazing theatre to shoot in but it comes with a stigma. Thirteen years prior, a group of acrobats were burned alive and it’s thought their spirits haunt it, seeking revenge. Soon after filming begins, unexplainable accidents begin happening and lives are lost, leaving the production strained. The ghosts behind the mayhem have a specific agenda and there’s a chance no one will survive. Weibang has to deal with the stress of the production as well as the constant pressure from his military father Gu Mingshan (Simon Yam). It could prove to be too much for one man to handle, weakening him, making him vulnerable to the vengeful spirits.
PHANTOM OF THE THEATRE is a beautifully shot drama/thriller. The story has some horrific overtones but at the core, it’s essentially a very well done tragic love story. The cast is top notch with award worthy performances from Tony Yo-ning Yang and Ruby Lin. One of Hong Kong cinema’s most prolific and under appreciated actors, Simon Yam delivers another powerhouse performance. The script from Jingling Li, Manfred Wong, and Mei Yuan Yang delivers some suspenseful moments but when it comes to the spooky, it starts off strong but is dialed back rather quickly. I assume this is due to the fact the Chinese government has restrictions as to how much of the content can be featured in a film. Director Wai Man Yip (THE HOUSE THAT NEVER DIES) is able to weave a delicious tale and tells the story with grace and a confident hand. With music that tends to harken back to the cinema of yesteryear (the film is set in the 30’s), PHANTOM has a distinct style for which to tell the tragic tale with haunting imagery and a unique voice.