‘You Need To Marry Her’: Ghost Marriage in Lingo Hsieh’s The Bride

by: , February 6, 2024

When the young writer-director Lingo Hsieh released her debut feature-length film 屍憶/Shi Yi/The Bride in 2015, she was already a rising star in Taiwanese horror cinema, even though she had previously only directed two music videos and three short films. The Bride tells a story of a ghost marriage, and is a development from her 2014 short film of the same name. My video essay begins with the idea of the ghost marriage. Beyond the union of two deceased individuals, the practice of ming hun/ghost marriage in Taiwan can also encompass the marriage between a deceased person and a living individual of the opposite sex. It is a traditional Chinese cultural custom with the earliest recorded instances dating back over 2,000 years. Ghost marriage is not always a voluntary arrangement: in most cases, it is imposed on individuals. It is understood to be a way to provide for the deceased’s future in the afterlife and to maintain the family line. If a woman dies unmarried, she is believed to be neglected and dissatisfied, which may produce disastrous consequences to the family (Tan, Wang and Chen 2019).

In The Bride, the ghost marriage is interrupted and left unfinished because of events in the past life of Hao, the male protagonist. The ghost bride, driven by her anger and resentment, haunts Hao in his present life, in order to complete the wedding and enable herself to be reincarnated. I use split-screen to condense the narrative, explain the unfinished ghost marriage, and represent the relationships between the characters. Catherine Grant suggests that through synchronous performance, multi-screen weaves together cinematic motifs and narratives in a way that would typically only be appreciated sequentially in one film at a time (2019). Multiscreen becomes an engaging way to understand the narrative and explore more possibilities for the interpretation of this film. Throughout the video essay, I explored two narrative strands: one is how the documentary producer Hao gradually discovers that he is caught in an unfinished ghost marriage, and the other depicts his encounters with the ghost bride and his memories of his past life. These two storylines then intersect at the cabin, the scene where the ghost marriage took place. This scene empowers the bride and she pursues self-empowerment by haunting an innocent man to complete her own marriage. Her empowerment comes at a cost though: her behaviour depicts her submission to patriarchal norms through her desire to complete her ghost marriage. The bride’s father says ‘you need to marry her’ to Hao. He then speaks in a local dialect, used in the past, but Hao cannot understand it at all. Beyond revealing the ritual of ghost marriage, my work thus asks, how do we deal with the contradiction between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, ‘the old’ and ‘the new’, and generational conflict? I suggest that the father also takes away Hao’s autonomy, and Hao also becomes a victim of the patriarchal discourse that underpins the feudalistic ritual of ghost marriage. This scene thus emphasises the unquestionable nature of paternalistic authority. Both Hao and the bride then represent the suppression of individual will: the autonomy of the individual is ignored, regardless of their gender.

My video essay centres around how the ghost bride makes her ghost marriage progress from incomplete to complete. It demonstrates how her strength and her autonomy advance the narrative: she resists being silenced or ignored, she rejects the role of passive victim, and instead asserts her agency through  significant influence over the living. However, when I showed a draft of my work to an American friend who studies decolonization, and has only seen a few classic Hollywood horror films, she said she did not get it. After a moment of self-doubt, I realised that, except for the language and translation barrier, it can also be challenging for audiences who are not familiar with the Asian cultural context to understand the significance of certain elements in some Asian horror films. This makes ‘You Need to Marry Her’ more necessary than I had originally realised. It seeks to bring attention to non-Western horror traditions, narratives and aesthetics and enrich our understanding of horror film as a global phenomenon. At the same time though, it also makes visible the contributions made by women. Although there has been a growing presence of women in both behind-the-scenes roles and in front of the camera in Taiwan, their collective efforts do not receive the same attention as their male peers. Indeed, the accomplishments of women filmmakers in Chinese language cinema, as well as the global film industry, have been underestimated and even disregarded due to the constraints imposed by authorship, patriarchy, and nationhood (Chan 2016; Marchetti 2021). With this project, I hope to highlight the promising yet under-examined Taiwanese women filmmakers, such as Lingo Hsieh, Ruby Lin and Tsai Hsuan Yen, who are all contributing to a female-driven language of Taiwanese horror film.


This research was supported by the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the AHRC.


Chan, Felicia (2016), ‘First, Not Only: Writing Chinese Women’s Film Authorship’, in Felicia Chan & Andy Willis (eds), Chinese Cinemas: International Perspectives, New York: Routledge, pp. 109–118.

Grant, Catherine (2019), ‘Beast Fables: A Videographic Study of Cinematic Deer and Transhuman Children’, The Cine-Files, 14, http://www.thecine-files.com/cgrant/ (last accessed 7 May 2023), pp. 1-12.

Marchetti, Gina (2021), ‘Where in the World are Chinese Women Filmmakers? Transnational China and World Cinema in the Twenty-First Century’, Studies in World Cinema, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 121-144.

Tan, Chris K. K., Xin Wang & Shasha Chen (2019) ‘Corpse Brides: Yinhun and the Macabre Agency of Cadavers in Contemporary Chinese Ghost Marriages’, Asian Studies Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 148-163.


Shi Yi/The Bride (2015), co-written and directed by Lingo Hsieh.

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