Esprit d’amour: ”Whatever they say, we won’t pay.”

Year: 1983
Directed by Ringo Lam
Produced by Karl Maka
Written by Raymond Fung Sai-Hung, Lo Kin and Clifton Ko Chi-Sum
Cast: Alan Tam, Joyce Ni, Cecilia Yip, Bill Tung, Tang Pik-Wan, Billy Lau, Philip Chan Yan-Kin, Tien Feng, Lung Tin-sang, Wai Gei-Shun, Cheng Mang-Ha, and Bai Lan

A mild-mannered insurance worker works with the spirit of a young woman killed in a tragic accident to ensure that her death isn’t ruled a suicide, so, that the insurance money under her name is given to those she cares about.

Ringo Lam’s first foray into directing is quite the oddity for those familiar with his later work and trademark style. Esprit d’amour might not be the birthplace of Lam’s gritty storytelling. Esprit d’amour is still wondrous tale in its own right. Hong Kong cinema has a peculiar drawn to the paranormal as a vehicle for comedies. Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind attempted it before, or The Occupant starring Chow Yun Fat would do the same a year later. Ringo Lam undercuts similar works a bit by not treating the paranormal totally frivolously. Esprit d’amour has an underlying repressed dark side that is not evident until the finale. The same darkness that would become Ringo Lam’s calling card. Ringo Lam’s careful eye for urban landscape does make an appearance or two, but not enough to be especially important.

This debut should be guilty of sticking too closely to the protocols of a romantic comedy. There is even a lagging fiance in it stirring up needless commotion. Alan Tam’s Koo Chi-Ming whose boyish frustrations might be irritating at first, but can be enduring if one doesn’t mind Alan Tam’s ways of acting. Siu Yee, the ghostly apparition that never strikes you as a pest since her mischievous antics aren’t excessive. Joyce Ni’s youthful appearance conveys an indispensable innocence and graceful beauty to Siu Yee that makes her irresistibly alluring. Ringo Lam’s direction is surprisingly unpretentious. Lam’s direction keeps Esprit d’amour within the bounds of a typical slapstick comedy. So, the bouts of greatness stand out all the more. Even the much of the slapstick feels more homely as a result of the sitcom-esque scenarios. Esprit d’amour’s false assurance of a happy ending is never too strong that the sudden tonal shift is too distracting. Siu Yee’s fate was a tragic accident,so, the tragic ending is more of a realization of that tragedy rather than a dramatic turn out of the blue.

Esprit d’amour is a quaint romance that harkens back to a time where slapstick comedy was all of the rage. Its irresistible charm and grace is able to tame the inherent wackiness to produce a competent supernatural love story of a lurking tragedy.

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