A scholar, who lives with a Taoist priest, meets Mo Chiu and quickly becomes infatuated with her - not realising that she is in fact a ghost. As his encounter with her was brief, he paints a picture of her to remember her by. Mo, however, is on the run from King Ghost and in trying to find somewhere to hide, she embeds herself in the painting. Soon the priest discovers the truth about the painting, but he is persuaded, by his son and the scholar not to kill Mo. King Ghost and the priest, being deadly enemies, finally have to fight a duel in order to decide the fate of the scholar and the ghost who are both in love with each other. But a relationship between a human and a ghost, surely must be destined for tragedy...?
Picture Of A Nymph is another one of the many films that were released in the late 80's and early 90's which were inspired by the classic Tsui Hark tale A Chinese Ghost Story. Where this one differs slightly from the rest is that this has Joey Wang (who appears to have been somewhat typecast after her role in A Chinese Ghost Story!) as the female lead, and again she is a ghost in love - a role pretty much identical to her role in A Chinese Ghost Story!
In some ways there is really little difference between this and the original A Chinese Ghost Story (hereafter CGS), as as well as starring Joey Wang as the ghost, it also stars Wu Ma as the Taoist priest and ghost hunter Wu Men Chu, a role not a million miles from his role in CGS. Fortunately though it is not completely a carbon copy, but in some ways it is as near as you could probably get! While in the first CGS Leslie Cheung portrayed the love struck scholar, in Picture Of A Nymph that role has gone to Lawrence Ng. Alas Lawrence is no where near as good in this role as Leslie Cheung was... Lawrence's character, Tsui Hung Chuen, is more comical and less emotionally believable, which over the course of the film has the effect of not making you feel as much for him, compared to how your were made to feel in CGS. Picture Of A Nymph's main star is Yuen Biao as Shih Erh, who was abandoned as a baby but taken in by the Taoist priest Wu Men Chu. His character, quite rightly given Yuen's amazing abilities, is there a little for comic relief but also as the main focus for the action. While there may be quite a bit of wire work going on, it is still very clear that Yuen really is an amazing martial artist. Unfortunately the fight scenes are few and far between, which is a crying shame as the film does kind of waste Yuen's abilities by not showing them off to their full.
I've given quite a few references to CGS so far, and from that I guess I have assumed that you will have either seen that film or at least know what it is about. On the off chance that you don't, following is a brief summary of Picture Of A Nymph's plot, without going into any real detail. Joey Wang's character Mo Chiu dies on her wedding night at the hands of the King Ghost, but rather than dying a full death she is "rescued" and is left to become a roaming ghost. One day she meets Lawrence Ng, who becomes infatuated with her, and whom, conveniently, she also quite likes. Soon though, he discovers that she is a ghost and is being hunted by the ghost king. An initial stroke of bad lick in this situation is that he is living with the ghost hunters (Yuen Biao & Wu Ma), so he has to help her hide, and somehow save her.
As a film Picture Of A Nymph is not bad. Quite enjoyable, but having seen CGS I couldn't help but feel that this was a rip off, just trying to adjust the story slightly... There is nothing on show that sets the film apart, or makes it highly memorable, with the possible exception of the scenary which at times looks fantastic. Joey Wang and Elizabeth Lee (Ghost King) both are gorgeous women, which in some other ways lifts the film up, but with the lack of use of Yuen Biao in action scenes I can't help but feel that the film could have been so much better.
Audio & Subtitles
There are two audio options available, one of which is the Cantonese soundtrack, which is the way I watched the film. The very start of the film sounded quite muffled and lacking any depth, wihch was not a good way to start the movie, but that seemed to disappear very soon after leaving an average soundtrack. There was nothing special, but also nothing dreadful. In fact there is very little to comment on in this department.
The subtitles are a bit more comment worthy, however, in both a good and bad way. For positioning and clarity they score perfect marks. Ideally positioned for widescreen TVs and written in a bold white font with a small black border. There is not a single occassion when they were not legible, and believe me there are a lot of occassions when the background is predominantly white! Grammar and spelling wise they don't fair so good. There are quite a few spelling mistakes throughout the film, and the wrong tenses of verbs being used. It would also appear that the subtitles may be a literal translation of the spoken cantonese as in one place one of the characters says "Shut up your mouth". It is clear what is meant by this, but I'm not sure whether this is just bad grammar or a literal translation. My Cantonese isn't good enough, yet, to be able to tell! On the whole though, the meaning of what is written is easy obtainable, so there is not that much thinking required.
The film print is ok. The detail levels look pretty high throughout with there being a nice "crystal clear" look to some scenes, which is very pleasing, but in others, particularly with the fire at the very start of the film, some of the yellows and reds do seem to bleed a little into the darker colours. There is also quite a bit of speckling going on in the majority of the print. For the most part these are small speckles but there are the odd larger ones which are quite noticable. At one point, at least I only remember it on one occassion, the vertical lines that you sometimes see in prints quite clearly appear for a few seconds. If the print had been cleared up a little better, this would have been a brilliant transfer, as the clarity of some of the scenes is superb.
DVD & Extras
Picture Of A Nymph contains all the usual extras that appear on most Universe discs. Those being star files (Yuen Biao and Joey Wang), More Attractions (3 more trailers for other films) and the trailer for this film. Far from inspiring, but far better than a lot of early Mei Ah discs, so we can be thankful for that!
This is a hard film to judge, as individually I did enjoy it, despite wishing that Yuen Biao was used more. However, as it is so blatently similar to CGS it is very hard to judge the film without comparing the two, and it has to be said CGS is better. There is nothing inheritantly wrong with this production, but neither is there something that gives it that extra spark to make it stand out. So my final word is if you have not seen CGS, then by all means watch this first as you'll probably enjoy it more that way, and it can act as a little teaser for what is to come when you do get round to watching CGS. Otherwise, if you have seen CGS, then this probably won't interest you that much.