For a horror/ghost story that doesn’t really
have a true scare in it, I thought this was one of the best in this genre
that I have seen for a few years. It is really more a thriller that just
happens to center on the supernatural and its fast pace, intriguing premise
and moments of pathos kept me fully involved in the rapidly unfolding plot.
It is very slick – quite commercial - very expensive for a Taiwanese film
(the most expensive at the time) - directed by Su Chao-pin who scripted Double
Vision – and was unexpectedly chosen to participate in the Official Selection
at Cannes. It got a bit of a critical bashing by some such as Variety and
disappeared from sight to some degree. The ending admittedly gets more than
a bit soggy in sentimentality but until then it keeps you in chilly anticipation
and on edge all the while.
Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi) leads a small team that is sponsored by the Japanese
government and in co-operation with other governments to search around the
world for ghosts. Whenever there is a rumor of an apparition he sends a gweilo
photographer to try and capture it on film. He is able to do this with an
invention of his – an anti-gravity device called the Menger Sponge. This
not only allows him to see ghosts – which are pure protein by the way – by
putting drops in his eyes but it also enables him to seal one off and observe
it. The obsessive Hashimoto’s intentions are murky and suspect as he searches
for the nebulous space between life and death. The photographer films a young
boy ghost in a worn tenement building in Taipei and pays for the experience
dearly with his grisly death – but the team arrives on time to seal the ghost
in and watch it.
Where the ghost came from and who it was is an enigma and Hashimoto pulls
in another team member – a Taipei police sharpshooter and lip reader, Tung
(Chen Chang) – to help him unravel the mystery. The ghost thrives on energy
and anger and they need to understand why. As they get closer to an answer,
Tung begins to realize that in fact there is very much a link between the
living and the dead – a fine long slender piece of silk that connects them
– and he also begins to realize that all of their lives are very much in
peril. As a seeming side story but one that eventually proves vital, Tung
along with his hoped for girlfriend, Wei (Karena Lam), look after his comatose
mother in the hospital and he searches for spiritual answers to whether he
should let her live or die.
Much of this is obvious silliness, but the film never gives you time to doubt
its story arc as it races from beginning to end in complete seriousness and
though it contains no real scares, there is a fair amount of crawling tension.
It also contains one moment of such utter sadness that it suddenly becomes
much more than just another ghost story. Thankfully, the film avoids any
of the recent Asian long haired horror tropes with this original and clever
script of science perhaps intruding where it has no right to and of our never-ending
need for answers about the other side of life. For those who are Karena Lam
fans, you should be warned that her role is surprisingly small and very passive
– this is really Chang’s film and he is terrific as a fast thinking problem
solving cop with a steady shooting hand – sort of a modern day Wisely.