6:27 AM PDT 5/9/2016 by Frank Scheck
Bodies begin piling up in this supernatural thriller set in a haunted theater in 1930s Shanghai.
One would think that if you were a movie director shooting your new film in a supposedly haunted theater and your leading man spontaneously burst into flames, a change of location might be in order. But then there wouldn’t be much to Raymond Yip’s deliriously nutty and lavish ghost tale, Phantom of the Theatre, which boasts plenty of lush visuals to compensate for its progressively ridiculous storyline.
Yip (for some reason billed here as Yip Wai Man) goes for baroque in this CGI-heavy effort set in 1930s Shanghai and looking appropriately resplendent. The story takes place in an ornate theater where thirteen years earlier a group of acrobats perished in a deliberately set fire and no one has entered since since (remarkably, it looks as good as the day it opened). Now it’s become the location of an ambitious young director’s (Yo Yang) new film starring a beautiful rising starlet (Ruby Lin), which is something of a problem since the venue is haunted by the vengeful ghosts of its victims.
Before you can say “crashing chandelier” things go mysteriously awry in deadly fashion, starting with the aforementioned immolation and only getting crazier from there. Investigating the mysterious deaths is a female forensic pathologist (Huang Huan) who by sheer coincidence happens to be the director’s girlfriend. But that doesn’t stop him from pursuing a dalliance with his comely leading lady.
The film’s premise is straightforward enough—and derivative, to be sure—but the storyline increasingly goes off the rails as it incorporates secret identities, dramatic revelations, unconvincing scientific explanations and the eventual appearance of the titular character (Jing Gang Shan) who won’t make Gaston Leroux’s Erik lose any sleep.
But it hardly matters, since the opulent production design, lavish costumes and colorful CGI effects (cheesy as they sometimes are) consistently fill the widescreen with stunning imagery. Despite the occasional jolts, Phantom of the Theatre is not particularly scary. But as befitting its milieu, it looks fabulous.
Production: Bona film Group, Hangzhou Herun Film, Dongyang Hongjing Film & Television Culture Co.
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Ruby Yin, Yo Yang, Simon Yam, Huang Huan, Jing Gang Shan
Director: Raymond Yip
Screenwriters: Hana Li, Sakura Yang
Producer: Jeffrey Chan, Ruby Lin, Jay Wei, Dong Yu
Executive producer: Manfred Wong
Director of photography: Michael Tsui
Production designer: Zhang Xiaoyou
Editor: Shirley Yip
Costume designer: Stanley Cheung
Not rated, 102 min.