Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2019 2:12 pm 
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The horror of domestic life and a shitty job

The "legendary" and much-awarded Malaysian screenwriter Ryon Lee comes up with his seventh combined directorial and writing effort and his fourth horror film, his last credit having been Haunted Road 2. He pulls out all the stops here, though that doesn't mean special effects, of which there are hardly any. The cinematography is subtly colorful, with yellows, turquoise and light greens predominating. If the sing-song Cantonese dialogue (I guess) and yammering arguments are grating, one can always shut one's ears and look at the pretty pictures.

It's not any F/X but the varieties of spookiness wrecked quietly down upon Sam (Michelle Wai, aka Wei Shiya), the young female protagonist that are numerous. Interestingly, she is repeatedly threatened with rape or sexual menace from nearby men. But she just seems to live in a scary world. She is bespectacled, shy, and cute. She works in a garment factory, where the older, more experienced women workers don't like her. The manager bullies her, as does her father (Wu Yaohan) at home. Then he disappears.

Sam has recourse to a raggedy doll that may embody he spirit of her lost little brother, and may also be a vehicle of revenge. These are people who believe in ghosts, spirits that possess and haunt. Very early on, the young woman and her mother, with a group of neighborhood women, come upon a man changing over and manipulating an older woman he is apparently freeing of possession.

Randomly (in this film's rather vague sense of space) out of nowhere a young man, York (Alex Lam, aka Linde), appears, a friend ten years before when they were kids, now chubby no more but lithe, full grown, and attractive, and he rents the spare room and becomes part of the household. It is not clear to me whether Sam's mother (Wu Yiyi), known only as "Ma," is a spook or a friend. She is "just a clinic assistant" and constantly querulous, and sometimes seems afraid, at others angry and menacing. Is the young man friend or foe? And is this uncertainty an intentional ambiguity, or tonal clumsiness? Early on we see the girls's mother and father fighting? Is this menace too, the horror of domestic unrest? Or just atmosphere? Or are they possessed by the evil sports of the unquiet dead? Up on the roof with the laundry hanging on the line, York tells Sam he doesn't care about ghosts and will protect her from them. But he says "To defeat the darkness, you must become part of the darkness," which sounds spooky.

Later, while Ma and Sam are acting hysterical over ghosts - arguing over whether the doll contains the ghost of Sam's dead little brother - York uncovers a cistern and finds her perpetually disappearing dad floating in it. Who is responsible for Sam's dad's death? Is the spirit of her dead brother Dao Dao in the doll invading Ma's mind and making her crazy? Did Sam's boss Tham Kok Wai rape her as the doll tells Ma? One sequence of growing menace or suspicion is cunningly intercut with images of York dicing vegetables for a dinner he's preparing for the vegetarians, Ma and Sam, the chop-chop and the rising music almost worthy of Hitchcock. Lee makes an admirably efficient use of available scene for his chilling effects; a sewing machine becomes a fatal torture device - and it is all done subtly, without gore. The melodrama is excessive throughout, but there is an odd restraint which, with the lovely blues and greens, makes this an interesting experience.

Walk With Me 雙魂 (Shuāng hún, "Double Soul"), 92 mins., got its North American premiere in the NYAFF, where it was screened for this review. It reportedly was exported before its domestic release. Facebook page. This has some Hong Kong actors in the leads and I believe was shot in Hong Kong.

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