Fantasia declared this “The Year of the Zombie” but they might just as easily declared this “The Year of the Angry Ghost” as, fuelled by the success of Ring, Asian cinema has begun to tackle horror. And because nothing breeds imitation like success, they have taken ghost stories as their subject more often than not.
Sadly, most of the Ring imitators have failed to learn one basic lesson from Ring: Angry Ghost films are about the dead who hate hate hate the living. By their very nature, Angry Ghost films can only end in death and blood, lots and lots of blood, because the ghosts will be satisfied with nothing less.
In addition to the films reviewed here, Fantasia featured The Eye and Phone, neither of which I was able to see. The Eye has gotten very good word of mouth. Phone has generally been panned although most people seem to think that the film’s dynamite ending almost saved the film. Of the films that I have already reviewed, Drive could be considered an Angry Ghost film, or at least a film featuring Angry Ghosts.
Day Eight Inner Senses Hong Kong, 2002 Director: Chi-Leung Law Canadian Premiere
This film will be forever doomed by the mythology that surrounds it as Leslie Cheung’s last film in the same way that Brainstorm is remembered more for being Natalie Wood’s last film than for its actual merits. Leslie Cheung tragically jumped to his death after making this film. Because Inner Senses deals with themes of suicides and more specifically with people jumping to their deaths, the legends have already begun to swirl around the film.
But the film does not deserve the hype. Inner Senses is a rather saccharine love story about a psychiatric patient who believes she is haunted and her doctor whose insights into ghosts come from bitter experience. It is also handicapped because it’s not really certain if it is a romance, a medical procedural or a horror film and the pacing suffers as the film lurches from one genre to the other.
In the end it suffers most from the delusion that ghosts can somehow be reasoned with. Ghosts are not psychiatric patients with solvable problems. They are dead and they hate the living, a simple message this film cannot understand.
Day Fourteen New Blood (Hyn huet ching nin) Hong Kong, 2002 Director: Pou-Soi Cheung Canadian Premiere
The film concerns a young couple who try to commit suicide. Because they share the same rare blood type as the cop who finds their blood-soaked bodies, he along with two strangers gives blood in an attempt to save them. The woman dies, the man lives. Needless to say, she is not happy about being both dead and alone, and she sets out to punish those who made it possible.
The film won me over completely when one of the three blood donors, a Catholic, goes for help to his local priest. The priest, naturally, pats him on the head, tells him that there are no such things as ghosts and puts him to bed to get some much needed rest. Once his eyes are closed, however, the priest heads straight for the hospital to perform an exorcism. This is only one of four exorcisms attempted in the film, as the ghost is confronted by Christianity, Confucianism, Psychiatric Science and Taoism.
The two other blood donors, the cop and a young woman with a troubled past, in the end have no choice but to confront the ghost. The problem is that there is a simple way of getting rid of the ghost, but the solution would force the cop to betray his oath and become something he is not, and for the woman that he is slowly becoming attracted to, the solution would force her to become something that she has spent all her life avoiding because she fears it is her destiny.
Some horror films crank up the tension slowly like a roller-coaster climbing that first hill, but New Blood starts with the terror from the very first reel and doesn’t let up until the very end. It could properly be accused of lacking subtlety, but I enjoyed its full throttle terror. New Blood is a crass manipulative shocker of a film. It is also scared the crap out of me.
Day Seventeen Double Vision (Shuang tong) Taiwan, 2002 Director: Kuo-Fu Chen Montreal Premiere
Double Vision is a police procedural horror about a baffling series of serial murder that prompts the Taiwan authorities to bring in an FBI expert (David Morse) as window dressing. Tony Leung Ka Fei plays the moody cop assigned to escort the FBI agent around and keep him out of the way. Naturally and somewhat to their regret, they crack the case.
There is a lot to praise about this film. All of the elements of police life in Taiwan ring true. The mystery is well done and is based on uniquely Chinese elements like Chinese Chess and Taoist myth. There is a bravura section in the middle that sharply reminds the viewer that hunting serial killers is dangerous business. The film nicely blurs the line, like the best X-Files episodes, whether the crimes are caused by men or by monsters.
But the film throws all that good will right out of the window with a bullshit Tinkerbell ending.
Day Twenty-One They’re Watching Us (Nos Miran) Spain, 2002 Director: Noberto Lopez Amado North American Premiere
Nos Miran is like one of those long family road trips, where you ride forever, don’t really see anything interesting along the way, and end pretty much back where you started.
The film is about a cop investigating a missing persons case whose personal history causes him to broaden the investigation into a general investigation of all missing persons in the attempts to find a general solution for all the cases.
This is a movie with a real identity problem. The film knows what it is supposed to be, the cop Juan Garcia declares it himself, “The dead are all around us, and they hate the living.” That is a good a summation for the Angry Ghost theme as I have seen. The problem is that the film refuses to become what it should be, in the process becoming a maudlin waste of the audience’s time.