Split of the Spirit

This 1987 Taiwanese supernatural thriller doesn’t appear to have much of a budget for special effects – but what it does utilize in this fashion is nicely done. It also makes wonderful use of another more human effect – the dramatic and compelling face of Pauline Wong. With a face that is far from being classically beautiful with its odd thin hard angularity and long prominent nose, it continues to fascinate me more upon each viewing. Cinematographers seem to take a great pleasure in capturing her expressions and this angularity in various shades of light and from different perspectives. It’s a face that would be perfect in black and white photography or as abstract art – Man Ray would have loved her, Picasso would have been inspired by her. She is also a terrific dramatic actress when given the opportunity – check her out in Her Vengeance if you need proof. Here she is fine too, though the role doesn’t call for the depths that she has to reach for in Her Vengeance.
A mistress (Chui Suk Woon, I believe) is desperately trying to hold on to the love of a fellow though it should be clear that he now wishes to be free of her. He takes her on a trip to Taiwan where he promises to show her a house he has built for her. Instead, he takes her out into the country and arranges for an evil magician and his assistant to kill her, but one of the spell tools is broken and her spirit escapes even if her mortal body does not. Her spirit is not pleased. But she needs a vessel to carry out her plan of revenge. This is where Pauline enters the story.
A famous dance choreographer, she comes to Taiwan to put on a show and accidentally breaks the jar of ashes that the woman’s remains are being kept in and gets the ashes on her hands. This connection is all the spirit needs and begins possessing Pauline at will and brutally killing the men responsible for her death. There is one lovely touch in here as the maid to the black magician comes into his room with tea – sees him silently sitting at his desk – and pokes him only to have his head fall off and a geyser of blood erupts from the now naked neck. A photographer realizes what has happened to Pauline and goes for advice to a friend involved with spiritualism – Cynthia Khan. This was a very early role for Cynthia – still based in Taiwan and a year before she was to make her breakout film with In the Line of Duty III. It is also a fairly small role in which she doesn’t get to do a lot but look wide eyed but adorable beneath her large glasses. Initially, the spirit only wants to use Pauline as a temporary instrument of death – but then realizes that she would like some company in the next world – and the hero has to travel to the other world to attempt to save her.
This isn’t a bad little film – but a bit too slowly paced much of the time to keep you rapt in attention. There are some nice moments though – usually revolving around the much-deserved violent demise of the bad guys. It gets a bit silly towards the end – but is saved by the seriousness of the characters.

As a note – the film is distributed on VCD by two companies. One is Ocean Shores and the other is Media Asia. Unfortunately, the transfer is much better on the Media Asia version, but English subs only appear on the Ocean Shores version that has a fairly anemic transfer.

My rating for this film: 6.0