Ghosts in Chinese Films

Dolan Metcalf

COR 330- Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors




Character names and descriptions- When naming the characters, I tried to find something that either sounded “right” for the character or something that meant something. For example, Zeng and Lei were not named after anything in particular but they way the names sounded seemed to fit the characters that I had created and that seemed more important than if they had an actual meaning. On the other hand, characters such as Zeng’s mother and Jianyu had names that were a little more relevant to their characters. AI, Zeng’s mother’s first name meant “love” and it seemed like a good name for a motherly character while Jianyu meant “building the universe” and it felt powerful for a powerful looking character.


Plot- While coming up with the plot, a lot of inspiration was taken from other movies with a similar genre. Painted Skin, The Bride With White Hair, and A Chinese Ghost Story were all great help as they were the exact genre my movie was based on. Using the basic elements from these very successful movies, I was able to create my own plot that would hopefully be a huge hit.


Budget- The pricing on the budget comes from estimations from other similar films. $10,000,000 seems to be a common number for higher budget movies in Hong Kong. It was the estimated budget for Painted Skin. For this movie, I plan on filming in semi-rural China and on a set if necessary. The theme of this movie will be similar to other eastern supernatural stories, as a action/supernatural hybrid.


Research- For research for this project, my main focus was looking into other movies that would be similar to mine. There were four movies in particular that I watched for inspiration and research and below I have included my notes from after the movie. They were mainly barebones, with just a shell of the basic plot to help understand the structure of the films.

Besides looking at these, I also researched ghosts in Chinese culture from a few other sources. Two main articles stood out more than others as they gave me a huge amount of information on how ghosts behaved in movies and in the culture in general. These two were both from class, the articles Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors, as well as The Depiction of Ghosts in Chinese Films. Even while knowing that ghosts are depicted very differently in these movies, they are the ones that are the most successful. Ghosts in Chinese culture are often seen as beggars and lost spirits that are just looking for food or people to take care of them yet that isn’t very entertaining to see in a movie. While ghosts are everywhere, the definition is something that is difficult to cover. The reasoning for this is explained very well in a quote from Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors, “The crucial point is that the category “ghosts” is always a relative one. Your ancestors are my ghosts, and my ancestors are your ghosts, just as your relatives are strangers to me and my relatives strangers to you.” This really helps show the complicated relationship that people have to ghosts in Chinese culture and how while ghosts may seem scary to someone, they are just someone’s ancestors to them.  Other articles that I researched gave perspective and other views but were mostly the same information as the others. Finally Knowing about the laws in China regarding movie censorship really helped influence my decision to film with a Hong Kong studio. While censorship may still occur here, it is much less prevalent and allows me to have a bit more freedom with what I create.

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