Director: Sam Leong
Cast: Christy Chung, Liu Yan, Kunimura Jun, Megumi Kagurazaka, Sam Lee, Den Den, Tony Ho, Miao Junjie, Danni Ma
RunTime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw & Scorpio East Pictures
Opening Day: 16 May 2013
Synopsis: An artist named Jiajia promised to show her girl friend Wei Ling around in Japan but eventually fails to show up for no reason. After Wei Ling goes and gets accommodated in a family-run hot spring hotel of Shimizu, Jiajia’s Japanese boyfriend, she begins her endless weired experience as if she’s haunted, and the hotel even sinks into a series of horrible homicides, in which the victims are all family members of the Shimizu’s without exception.
If anyone’s keeping score, it’s been slightly more than a decade since Christy Chung has been at the front and centre of a new movie, so you can be excused if you do a double take when she first appears on screen; that, and the unmistakable fact that she has aged visibly since the last time we saw her act. Yet fans of the former model cum actress anticipating her comeback in this mystery thriller should take note – this isn’t the sort of comeback we can almost certainly say anyone would be satisfied with.
Whereas in younger days Christy would most certainly be cast as the popular celebrity Jiajia, that role has gone to Mainland actress Liu Yan; instead, Christy plays Jiajia’s fashion consultant Wei Ling. The pair also happen to be best friends, and when Jiajia suddenly springs a surprise that she is heading off to Japan to marry her boyfriend Hirota, Wei Ling agrees to follow her all the way into the Okinawan hillside. Yet the day before they are supposed to meet, Jiajia goes missing, leaving Wei Ling to play detective in a hostile environment where everyone seems to be hiding a secret.
The premise for a good cross-continent horror? Well, not quite, even if director Leong Tak Sam – working from his own screenplay – wants to make you think so with plenty of the genre’s stylistics. The ‘boo’ scares, the sudden loud music, the jump-cuts- they are all there, as if Leong just reached into a bag and pulled out the tricks of the trade. One crucial thing he forgot though was technique, and the haphazard way in which he stitches together scenes with these clichés leaves much to be desired.
The same can be said of the mystery at the heart of his tale, which revolves around some dark secrets of Hirota’s family, including his matriarch of a mother Mrs Shimizu (Michiko Kodama), her loyal manservant Hirai (Den Den), and his sister Michiko (Megumi Kagurazaka). Not to worry, we’re not about to reveal any spoilers here; we’re however inclined to reveal that Leong himself spoils the story with one too many superfluous supporting relationships that fail to add much to the central whodunit – most prominently, a three-way relationship between Wei Ling, her lover Zhang Dong (Tony Ho), and his girlfriend Sun Ying.
It doesn’t help that, in addition to the loosely scripted plot, Leong shows his inexperience as a director by letting the pace remain slack for far too long. There’s hardly much tension or build-up as the body count piles up, so much so that the final reveal turns out pretty anticlimactic. We might as well warn you as well that you might feel cheated by the twist at the end, surely to be described as a ‘deus ex machina’ by more cynical viewers just so the movie doesn’t cross supernatural boundaries which would by extension cross the strict Mainland China censorship guidelines.
And amidst it all, Christy simply looks lost. Granted that her character is only supposed to figure out what happened much later on, but the look of perpetual confusion she wears on her face seems to also stem from the somewhat incoherent plot. In fact, the ones who make the movie better than it deserves to be are the veteran Japanese actors – especially Den Den and Michiko Kodama, both of whom are effectively creepy to convey both menace and fear. The rest of the Chinese cast are dull in comparison, but that’s also because their supporting bits are underwritten in the first place.
It’s no secret that by the time the truth comes to light, there is really little incredible about it. Probably the bigger mystery is how Leong Tak Sam, a producer of much better movies (e.g. ‘Dog Bite Dog’ and ‘Shamo’) than the ones he had personally written and directed, had managed to persuade Christy to come out of retirement in the first place. The promise of a free trip to Japan maybe? In any case, this is hardly the homecoming fans will have been waiting for, even if Christy does tease with a brief upper body shot with just a towel wrapped around her.
(Not nearly as exciting nor as scary as it should be, this mystery thriller styled as a horror is not even good enough as a comeback for former model cum actress Christy Chung)
Review by Gabriel Chong