Inner Senses

Reviewed by YTSL

Are you the kind of person who could be described as high strung and prone to being much affected by your viewing of certain movies?  If so, then here’s a suggestion from someone who will readily admit to fitting the afore-mentioned bill -- albeit with the caveat that she honestly doesn’t reckon that she is necessarily all that easily scared (N.B. As proof, I’ll point out my having been impervious to the chill plus fright tactics of such as Takashi Miike’s “Audition”, Mario Bava’s “Black Sabbath” and Cheang Pou-Soi’s “Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster”) -- that you approach this atmospheric, intense and consistently serious 2002 offering from director Bruce Law and producer Derek Yee with some caution, and at your peril.

This is on account of my having found the unexpectedly complex plus involving INNER SENSES -- whose viewers appear as divided in opinion as to whether it’s really (primarily) a suspenseful psychological thriller or unsettling supernatural horror (but definitely also contain elements of tragic along with touching romance) as in whether it’s all that good an effort -- to be not just hair-raisingly creepy at certain key moments but also actually nightmare- as well as literally sweat-inducing plus very thought-provoking (especially when viewed alone when it’s dark outside).  And while I do hear the arguments of some of this work’s detractors re this not particularly big fan of scary fare’s much more positive reaction to the effort possibly stemming from my (being unlike them in) not yet having checked out “The Sixth Sense” and “The Ring”, I’ve also been furnished with the distinct impression by those same sources that this intelligently scripted (by Yeung Sin Ling) movie does turn out to riff -- rather than rip -- off essential elements that appeared in those two non-HKSAR productions.
Indeed, so much is this the case that INNER SENSES actually can appear to wreck havoc with those expectations that people who have viewed those Hollywood and Japanese hits may have when going into a viewing of that which has: its primary female character state that “I see ghosts”; a male protagonist coming in the form of the psychologist who is charged with treating this (at least initially) troubled youth; and video recordings playing an important part in the proceedings.  Accordingly, it probably would be best if this characteristically multi-genre Hong Kong effort were to be approached on its own terms; ones that seem, among other things, to existentially stress the need for people to be open to the possibility of there being more than one single -- even if not simple -- or maybe no authoritative answer re such as the (best way to understand the) inner-most workings of the human mind and/or whether supernatural beings really can and do exist (and in the often quite particular way that an individual’s society and culture has taught and told him or her that they do).
At their first meeting, INNER SENSES’ two main personalities come across as the human equivalents of the immovable object and the irresistible force.  Yan Cheung (who is portrayed by the mercurial Karena Lam) is adamant that she is not a sick person even while strongly holding on to a belief that “I am just someone who can see ghosts all the time”.  Consequently, even while the young woman appears to be under great emotional plus mental -- and maybe also physically -- duress, she tries (at least for a while) to resist the professional assistance and support that gets proffered by Dr. Jim Law, the workaholic psychologist friend and colleague (who gets essayed by the ever capable Leslie Cheung) of her caring elder cousin’s husband, whose announcement that “If you believe in ghosts, they will exist” appears to carry with it the counter-proposition that “If you don’t want ghosts to exist (and haunt you), you should just desist from believing (in them)”.
Before too long though, certain eventful developments at the apartment that she had only recently rented and moved into threaten to send the already nerve-wrecked Yan Cheung -- who Jim Law noticed has the kind of scars on her wrist that looked to have been self-inflicted -- over the edge.  For one thing, she -- who explains her living alone by stating that “my family is in Australia” (even though she technically could have opted to stay with the supporting characters played by Valerie Chow and Waise Lee) -- frequently hears disembodied voices inside her bathroom.  For another, after being informed by her voluble landlord (who was barely recognizable as Norman Chu, of “We’re Going to Eat You” and “Duel to the Death” as well as “Wing Chun” fame) that he continues to await the return of his wife and son who had accidentally perished in a landslide some years back, she believes herself to have caught sight of the deceased duo (who used to call her new living space their home).
Enter Jim Law to resolve his patient’s problematic situation in ways that seem eminently effective and sensible as well as logical.  After Yan Cheung’s issues appear to have been conclusively worked out (and long before the half way mark of a full length film), the focus of INNER SENSES switches to the therapist who had hitherto seemed too capable -- and psychologically “together” -- to be true as well as an interestingly three-dimensional character.  While there are those for whom this is when the well lensed (by Venus Keung) and edited (by Kong Chi Leung) throughout movie takes a wrong turn, my own feeling is that it’s really when things got particularly intriguing and captivating.  Since I don’t want to majorly spoil things for those of this review’s readers -- and yes, I’m assuming that they exist (even if I often lack concrete proof re it being so)! -- who have yet to view the work, I’ll just state here that this is not least since the second half (or may even last third) of the production is when Peter Kam’s often inspired choice of musical notes and (the) other orchestrated sounds really kicks into gear, and Maggie Poon’s increasingly memorable character gets to figure more prominently in this offering.

My rating for the film: 8.

Reviewette by Brian

I suppose if you go in head first looking for scares you may be badly disappointed with this film, but otherwise I thought this was one of the more intelligent and mature horror films to come out of Hong Kong in a long while. Of course that may not be saying a lot! Though I felt no real jolts of adreneline zap through my body, I found myself involved with the story from beginning to end. The transition midway through from the focus being on Karena to Leslie initially seems a bit clumsy, but in a sense this sudden twist is what made the film take on more depth than a typical ghost story.

Directed by Law Chi Leung who has only two other films to his credit - both with Leslie - Viva Erotica and Double Tap - he brings a nice refined sense of style and slow tension to the narrative that is rarely overplayed (possibly with a cheap thrill exception or two). Certainly more creepy and psychological than out and out horror (of which there is really none), it explores our inner demons - real or imaginary - it doesn't really matter when that icy heartpounding sense of fear reaches out for you in the loneliness of the night.

My rating for this film: 7.5