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Now firmly established as a popular figure in both the commercial and art-house sectors of Hong Kong cinema, hot young actor Daniel Wu (BISHONEN, ENTER THE PHOENIX) co-produced this eerie supernatural drama with Stanley Kwan - director of ROUGE (1988) and LAN YU (2001) - which Wu has described in interviews as: "A dark, non-typical Hong Kong story, with a more European feel to it than most". Based on a novel by writer-director Julian Lee, Wu plays Sam, a photographer pursuing a successful career in London, far away from the ghosts of his childhood in HK, where he suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a 'benign' family priest (Eddy Ko). However, he's forced to return home when his alcoholic mother (Kara Hui) informs him that his twin brother Ah-hung has died following a horrific incident in which he was torn apart by monkeys (talk about creepy!). Beset by grief and confusion, Sam seeks answers from the ageing night porter (Guk Fung) of a local library which his brother used to attend, where he's introduced to Ah-hung's strange girlfriend (mainland model Coco Chiang) whose devotion to Sam isn't as innocent as it first appears. But Sam's return to HK has also rekindled his affections for a childhood friend (Allan Wu), whom Ko accuses of being partly responsible for Ah-hung's death. The mystery continues to deepen...
Filmed in twelve days on a limited budget and photographed with noir-ish intensity by debut cinematographers Wong Chi-ming and Charlie Lam, this multilayered shocker recalls the escalating paranoia suffered by Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), though the Gothic tone and slow-burning tempo of Lee's film owes as much to similarly-styled Asian entries like RING (1998) and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2003). Lee maintains a cohesive narrative structure, despite his fractured editing style and non-linear approach to the material, whilst Wu anchors proceedings with his skillful portrait of a sensitive artist cast adrift in a threatening landscape. Many of the film's themes and images are linked explicitly to the famous painting 'The Nightmare' by 18th-19th century artist Henry Fuseli (that's the one in which a horned demon is sitting astride a sleeping/swooning woman draped across a bed), an image whose relevance only becomes clearer as the movie draws to its enigmatic conclusion, and while the stark location photography evokes an appropriate measure of creeping dread, Lee further unnerves his audience by introducing odd, disconcerting noises into an otherwise benign soundtrack, while half-seen images flicker briefly at the edges of the frame. Though it plays like a character study, the film is intensely cinematic in the usual HK manner, and while the ending is a little abrupt and confusing, events become clearer on subsequent viewings. Like BLOW-UP (1966), this is a movie which refuses to indulge the viewer's expectations...
Daniel Wu is in every scene, and he's hypnotic and beautiful and deeply tragic, all at the same time; tormented by the shadows of an unhappy childhood, and consumed by the darker shadows of an impending catastrophe, he tempers the anguish of his brother's death with the fortitude of a natural survivor. Chiang essays a character not unlike the nightmarish Sadako in the Japanese "Ring" series, an innocent-looking pawn of satanic forces, while Guk's kindly night porter turns out to be harboring more than a few guilty secrets of his own (my lips are sealed). Slow-going, but bewitching and dreamlike in the best possible way, the movie was given a Category III (adults only) rating by HK censors for some frank sexual material, including an extraordinary scene in which Sam sprawls beneath his bedclothes, masturbating langurously over a recent photograph of the young man he once loved and lost (now a hunky radio DJ). Few actors of Wu's standing have ever been so daring in HK cinema.
(Cantonese and English dialogue)
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