The Ghost Bride: Stream it or Skip it?

Home » The Ghost Bride: Stream it or Skip it?

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-03 at 4.29.28 AM (17)If you’re not familiar with this 3000 year old tradition that is said to be still practised in rural China today, a ghost wedding can involve the marriage of two dead corpses or a person who is living and a person who is dead.  True story.  It’s a superstition or belief that ensures someone will not be alone in the afterlife and in today’s world has been at the centre of some pretty dark cases in tomb raiding and stolen corpses, but I digress.

This film focuses on the lighter side of fantasy and coming of age.  It’s based on the best-seller by the Yangsze Choo, an author of Malaysian Chinese descent now living in America.  It was a popular selection on Oprah’s book club list and it’s set in early 19th Century Malacca.  It tells the story of a young girl named Pan Li Lan who grew up with dreams of seeing the world and had a crush on Lim Tian Bai, ascion of the Lim family that she grew up with.  When Li Lan became a 20-year old debutante, Tian Bai returned at last from studying medicine overseas. Li Lan’s family had fallen on hard times however and she was forced to agree to a “ghost marriage proposal” from Lim Tian Ching, the recently poisoned heir of the Lim family.   In her desperation to escape this face, Li Lan is ensnared in a mysterious incident that will change her life forever.

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Malacca is located on the west coast of the Malay peninsula and has been a key
trading hub between the East and West since ancient times.  Close links were
established with China as early as the Ming Dynasty and many people are
descended from the inter-marrying of the Chinese and the local people with the
men known as Baba and the women known as Nyonya.

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Yangsze Choo drew on her multicultural background to write a fantasy story about
love, courage and searching.   According to Choo, the unusual has always fascinated her. She grew up reading the works of Victorian period authors such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Montague Rhodes James.  The choice of Malacca in 1890 as the setting of the story was due to a combination of Eastern and Western cultural influences.  Gothic literature of the Victorian period was obsessed with decadence, death and the occult.  To this Choo added fantasy legends of China and Japan such as the bureaucracy of hell. Local Malaysian ghost stories were also incorporated into this version of Twilight for the Chinese-language world.  Choo said that the very first image conjured by her mind was of a young, pretty girl sitting in a room lit by oil lanterns telling her story: “One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Huang Peijia: The Golden Bell Award Winning Actress
Transforming Into 19th Century Nyonya Heroine

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She plays Pan Li Lan is a free-spirited, adventurous teenager in a world where females can never be as important as men.   Even from her young age, her dream was always to travel the world, especially Paris, the place where her late mother promised to bring her. She always feels that there’s more for her than just to follow the norm of other girls her age; to get married and “trapped” as a housewife forever but there aren’t many options for women in that time.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-03 at 4.29.28 AM (14)Huang said that frankly, the concept is very weird for her since she was often told by her elders since she was very little that she should not pick up red envelopes or bags on the roadside. However, she also said that she had heard other more moving stories, such as someone passing away in an accident and the lover wishing to be married to the deceased anyway.   Regardless, she believed that although this was romantic, the two people were already in different worlds and could not actually be together.

Angeline Tan: Matriarch of the Chiang Family

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-03 at 4.29.28 AM (9)Tan plays Madam Lim, who spoils her only son Tian Ching rotten, generating a series of terrible consequences. However, she considers Madam Lim to be a typical Chinese mother.  She loved her son so much that when her son turns into a ghost and haunts the family after dying in an accident, she seemed consoled for knowing that her son still lived in another world. Therefore, whichever demands her son came up with, Madam Lim would always do her best to satisfy them.

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Tan says with sympathy, “is this wrong? You can’t really blame her.” She also thinks that Tian Ching was not inherently bad. He was just used to demand things from his mother while he was alive, and when he passed away and entered another world, he naturally demanded things from his mother in the same way.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-03 at 4.29.28 AM (10)She also mentioned the scenes where Madam Lim sent objects (by burning them) to the Netherworld that her son requested. Tan laughed and said that the paper props that the production design team made were so beautiful that she could not bear to burn them. She even asked if she could simply pretend to burn them. But in the end, she really had to burn them all. Then the exact same objects would show up in the Netherworld scenes. She could not help but exclaim that they were so exquisite.  She laughed and said, “the boy’s clothes and items are better than his mother’s.” She also spoke highly of the clothes that the costume team designed for her, which perfectly combined modern and ancient elements.

Teresa Daley:
Glamorous Princess with Hidden Dark Side

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-03 at 4.29.28 AM (15)In preparation for her role, she thought Isabel saw Tian Bai as a male version of her, so it was natural to marry Tian Bai.  When she saw Li Lan for the first time, she
probably did not realize that Tian Bai might have feelings for this girl.  So when she
finally became aware of the chemistry between Tian Bai and Li Lan, she struggled
with it quite a bit because in the traditional Chinese family education that she
received, it was normal for a man to have more than one wife.  However, she also
received a western education, which told her otherwise. This formed the dark side
of her character.

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Stripping down the folklore and comedy antics in the series, there we’re opened to a different way of thinking in a time on whether to marry for love or status.  The opulent sets and location shoots take us to a time in history that is quite captivating, particularly in the pilot episode with the grand ball hosted by the Chiangs.  Many Chinese cultural elements were preserved and fused with the local culture of Malacca as it was town at the gateway between the east and western worlds.  Successive waves of European colonists from Portugal, the Netherlands and England resulted in an unusually diverse culture.

Like Twilight where the pale horror of vampires and werewolves were given a romantic and feminine touch, The Ghost Bride took the disquiet of the traditional ghost wedding and imbued them with dreams and adventure from a female perspective.   The result is a new generation of romantic fantasy.   Choo herself mentioned that she decided to write this book due to something that Toni Morrison, the female African-American author, had said: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”   This was what inspired Choo to break with convention in The Ghost Bride and this was also what drew in young readers from different cultural backgrounds. They may not be familiar with traditional Chinese culture but the story still resonated with them somehow.  Choo also felt that ghost weddings were just as complicated as real-life marriages.  The complexities of the human character as well as the push-pull relationship between the family and the individual were all things that people could identify with as well.

It’s an easy 6 episode watch worth adding to your MyList:

Netflix MyList


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