Reading up on Little Woman (aka Ming Ghost), this Taiwan production originally came out at a 136 minute running time in its native territory and it's mind boggling the amount of minutes some deemed needed to tie together this period whodunnit. Because in Hong Kong, a good 40 minutes were edited out which still makes Little Woman a very slow, methodical whodunnit that ties together its bag neatly by the end without too much excess. Some editors were right in the head, some were not. Filmmakers like Chu Yen-Ping had his vision in the likes of Island Of Fire and A Home Too Far ruined in Hong Kong but Yau Liu-Jen's and Yau-Daai On-Ping's (acclaimed writer of Stanley Kwan's Rouge) I firmly believed was saved when brought down to below 100.
Centering around an encounter involving the daughter of an official called Yin (Joey Wong), her husband Chin Wun, animalistic Hung Yim (Tan Lap-Man - The Golden Lotus "Love And Desire") with cosmetics salesman Shin Siu (Anthony Wong Yiu-Ming) looking on from a distance that ends with Yin raped and her husband dead, Yin's father starts recapping the story in order to bring the guilty parties to justice. Along the way it turns out there's more to the deadly encounter though that can be tracked back to Yin's mother (Chan Wing-Chi - False Lady) being sentenced to death (by wooden donkey... which IS painful)...
It's a very direct flick (rated Category III for only minor sexuality actually) that gets bloodshed into our face quickly and despite seeing Chan Wing-Chi being seemingly ground to death on the wooden donkey, clear is also that both Yau's directing has reduced pace and atmosphere as goals. A dangerous venture paying off as they move the flick along. Matters are indeed pretty confusing until we realize the main catalyst of the plot has more facets to it than we first expected. Especially confusing at first (you'll get why later) is Tan Lap-Man first saving Yin's mother and Yin as a child from drowning and then being wrongly accused only to turn into a masturbating, animalistic rapist (which is the suitable role for the overacting Tan Lap-Man usually) and he even appears to be a vampire at one point. But the careful compositions visually, the ambient score and a haunting looking Joey Wong slowly transforms the movie into a mystery viewers can get attached too.
As the different sides to the story gets played out in front of us, with a mysterious, pasty white Joey Wong appearing less like an angel as time goes by, she's also possibly a scarred character having lost all her worth and reverted into a destructive shell. Rape is not be taken lightly and being the daughter of an official in that position, no wonder Yin is not herself in the aftermath. Or is she? Who is she? What happened? Wong relies on star presence very reliably, makes us side and question what we're seeing and looks absolutely stunning through Bill Wong's eye behind the lens (he co-shot it with Yeung Wai-Hon).
Little Woman is a suitable extension of the atmospheric ghost story (yes, that much I can reveal) as conveyed by Yau-Daai On-Ping in Rouge and often we get enchanting atmosphere and little frustration despite all of this relying on arthouse tendencies too. Stick with it and for god's sake at 95 minutes only and you'll be rewarded with an obscure 90s Category III piece that probably could've avoided that rating with yet another cut or two. You'll think less and less of the III in the triangle after all is revealed through the careful lightning, smoke and ghostly apparitions.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson