The Phantom Lover

on September 08, 1995 by Ed Scheid
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  &#160In 1930s China, a theatrical troupe arrives to perform in a dilapidated theatre that had burned down 10 years before. Director/co-writer, shooting these scenes in black-and-white, emphasizes the decay of the theatre and the shadows of the mysterious backstage area. Flashbacks shot in color tell the fire's cause. The ornate structure was built by Song Deeping ("Farewell My Concubine's" Leslie Cheung), a popular star who sings as a musical Romeo to enraptured females and angry older men. His offstage love ("Eat Drink Man Woman's" Wu Chien-lien) has been promised to a corrupt politician's son. In revenge for her rejection of the arranged suitor, the theatre is torched. Song is presumed dead; his lover goes mad. In reality, Song's face was disfigured by the flames, and he has hidden in the ruins.
  &#160The theatrical troupe's opening performance, which satirizes communist propaganda, is a disaster. In desperation, the lead decidees their next performance will be Song's musical version of "Romeo and Juliet." There are other parallels: The rejected suitor is now a cultural official who's attracted to the new star's girlfriend.
  &#160The flashback's bright colors (especially the reds) accentuate the passion of the romance from the past. Lush images and opulent stage design make an appropriate setting for the intense emotions of Song's love story. Cheung is charismatic as the onstage Romeo, the offstage lover and the disfigured phantom, who proves far more benign than the one haunting Paris' Opera. Wu and the other actors create vivid portraits without exaggerating their characters' emotions. Director Yu has made a film that's both enjoyable and absorbing as the love stories of past and present intersect. Starring Leslie Cheung, Wu Chien-lien, Huang Lei and Liu Lin. Directed by Ronny Yu. Written by Roy Szeto, Raymond Wong and Ronny Yu. Produced by Michael Ng, Raymond Wong and Leslie Cheung. No distributor set. Drama. Mandarin-language; English subtitles. Not yet rated. Running time: 100 min. Screened at Pittsburgh's 3 Riversfest.
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