The Returning

Reviewed by YTSL

Lee Chi Ngai, Jacob Cheung, Raymond To and Peter Chan are four of the more respected behind-the-camera names in the Hong Kong movie industry.  In theory, any cinematic offering that has their combined input could not be anything other than magnificent.  Unfortunately, the 1994 United Filmmakers Organization (UFO) film that was co-written by Messrs. Lee, Cheung and To from a story conceived by Mr. Chan does not fit this optimistic bill.  Instead, while it’s not quite a case of too many cooks having spoiled the broth, the supernatural thriller which (also) is helmed by Jacob Cheung -- and co-produced by Lee Chi Ngai and Claudie Chung -- feels less like a rich distillation than a diluted dish that’s ultimately too insubstantial to satisfy one’s appetite.

This is too bad since THE RETURNING has some really palatable portions along with an intriguing premise (involving a book editor who falls for a long deceased writer who his long-time girlfriend appears to be the doppelganger of, and more).  Neither is this effort lacking in visual style -- courtesy of whoever was in charge of the film’s costume as well as set design department(s) -- nor interesting performances by its three main cast members (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai turns in a low key portrayal as that editor, Wu Chien-Lien shines as his significant other(s), and Sandra Ng contributes some good moments as a close friend of the couple).

IMHO, THE RETURNING worked really well as the suspenseful ghost story that it started off as, with Lee Yik Cheung (Little Tony’s character) deciding to move into the spooky former residence of Siu Lau, an author who died in mysterious circumstances some half a decade earlier but whose writings continue to be read, in a bid to better understand her mind.  With not much more than the sounds of a baby crying and an old song playing on a gramophone along with such sights as that of curtains and chandeliers being sent into motion by breezes of unknown origin, an eerie cum moody atmosphere got pretty effectively created; so much so that this (re)viewer found herself questioning her decision to watch this film during the witching hour as well as sympathizing very much with poor Elaine (Wu Chien-Lien’s Japanese restaurant waitress character), who looked to end up spending more time alone -- and afraid -- in the house than (with) her boyfriend.
Things started to go less well though with THE RETURNING’s “development” into a love story as well as investigative attempt to solve an old mystery.  Chief among the problems for me with the latter portions of this work is the lack of explanation provided as to why Lee Yik Cheung would lust after the difficult -- and not just because of her being dead! -- Siu Lau but not wish to make love to the equally physically attractive plus willing and right-there-for-the-taking Elaine.  Also, even with the inclusion of the link -- between the past and present as well as living man and deceased woman -- character of “Old Tong” in the picture, I fail to see what made the man so intent on getting skeletons out of closets and delving into matters which didn’t personally involve him until Siu Lau “returned” to the land of the living by way of possessing his unfortunate girlfriend’s body (An occurrence that takes place in the first half of the movie).
For these outlined -- along with other -- reasons, I felt more and more emotionally detached and distanced from proceedings the further along I got into THE RETURNING.  Some signs of my mind having wandered and chosen to fixate on aspects of the film which really ought not to have occupied my thoughts as much as they did are my:  Noticing that a verbal reference to an “Acura Legend” got translated in the English subtitles to a Mercedes “Benz 300” series; and pondering whether its lead actor and actress had on some of the sheerest and clingiest clothing outside of “Cheap Killers” (N.B. I’m not sure whether Clarence Fok or his associates were involved in this production but there also were a couple of scenes in this movie which I reckon bore visual resemblances to ones in “Naked Killer”).
In truth then, I’d have to say that I never got to really caring about what transpired for much of THE RETURNING nor all that excited about seeing how the bulk of its matters -- including those that were of the life and death variety as well as concerned the heart -- would eventually play out in this picture.  All in all, I wish that Jacob Cheung had not taken Peter Chan’s then eleven year old story off the shelf and had left it to the other man to bring the project to fruition on his own (or, as had been hoped two years earlier, in a more exclusive tandem with Lee Chi Ngai).

My rating for this film:  6.

DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is dreadful for this film - horribly murky for the indoor shots and loads of smearing.

Not really Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.

No menu and no extras.

The subtitles are burnt on Chinese and English.