The Death Curse

Reviewed by YTSL

Back in the year 2000, Soi Cheang (AKA Cheang Pou-Soi) made his directorial debut with “Diamond Hill” -- a film with family ties as its central, binding, theme and a creepy feel for much of it before being revealed to be more of a drama than conventionally scary effort.  Three years and two attempts at horror (i.e., “Horror Hotline: Bighead Monster” and “New Blood”) on, he looks to have returned to exploring a topic that appears close to his heart.  Additionally, while that which has earned some notoriety on account of it being the debut movie of Kenny Kwan and Steven Cheung -- i.e., the two “Boyz” who are supposed to be the male equivalent of the Twins -- as well as starring Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung may look like it promises to dispense many horror type thrills, my sense post viewing this 2003 Hong Kong-Mainland China co-production is that its makers actually sought to provide its audience with more touchy feely moments than spine-tingling chills or outright frights.

THE DEATH CURSE effectively begins with the attempts of a father to reunite with his eight children by six different wives.  When he made his first appearance in the story, Ting Ching Wai was already an old man, and one who was not in particularly robust health to boot.  So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise to find that, by the time any of his offspring -- a varied lot who include two whose first language was Mandarin, two others who now made their home in Thailand, a Triad tough and a naive youth who had been living in an orphanage -- answered his plea to go to his sizeable and forbidding as well as traditional looking place of residence and visit, the medical scholar already had passed away.  Consequently, although the all pretty much grown up Ting children had journeyed -- some from quite far away -- to meet with their father, he was not among the living individuals who were there to greet them when they finally made it to a place that doesn’t look to have been all that easy to reach, and also is not one that many people wish to visit.
Instead, upon their arrival, they (who come in the form of Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung, Raymond Wong and the two Boyz along with two older Mainland thespians) were introduced to an elderly retainer turned caretaker (who can seem suspiciously well versed with regards to the “do”s and “don’t”s of death rituals), a lawyer (Alex Fong’s bespectacled character took great pains to identify himself using the English title of “lawyer” -- rather than, say, the Cantonese word “lok si” -- and as having the surname of Cheung rather than Ding) and those of their half-siblings who had made it to the mansion before them.  Then, after all seven of the Ting children who Lawyer Cheung said had managed to be contacted had passed through the doors of their late father’s residence, they were taken to a darkened room to behold, with some understandable sense of shock, their father’s corpse sitting -- rather than lying -- in state.
Somewhere along the line, Nick (Raymond Wong), Linda (Gillian Chung), Nancy (Charlene Choi), Ben (Kenny Kwan) and Jerry (Steven Cheung) and the two eldest Ting offspring also were told by Lawyer Cheung that each of them stood to inherit a fortune; one that, to be sure, would be divided among the sextet but, nonetheless, constitute a very substantial sum for each of the recipients.  However, and but of course(!), certain conditions needed to be met in order for this to occur.  One of them involved their having to remain within the mansion and its grounds for forty-nine days and nights.  A second was that they have to individually light and burn incense to pay their respects to their departed father at midnight of every night that they stay at his (former) abode.  A third of these was that, upon completion of the aforementioned ritual, they -- who, it should be emphasized, weren’t all that likely to harbor genuinely warm feelings towards their half-siblings whose existence they had previously not known -- had to then give one another a hug!
For the most part, these requirements initially appeared to be easy enough to fulfill even while maybe also being a bit of a drag.  However, starting in earnest on the seventh night after Mr. Ting’s death, a time period traditionally thought by the Chinese to be when the soul of the departed would return to visit its former earthly residence, things began to feel and go amiss.    As a result, some people appeared to have good reason to believe that a DEATH CURSE had befallen the elderly Ting and also would rain down on his offspring; and this especially so after one of the Ting children soon ends up as dead as his father and at least one other of them starts behaving in a way that makes one inclined to believe that she has become possessed.
If truth be told, however, at no point during my viewing of THE DEATH CURSE did I feel frightened or even become all that anxiety-ridden.  Instead, like I sought to suggest previously, Soi Cheang seems to have sought for the film -- which also has a “love interest” role for Lawrence Chou -- to be more (biological) relationship affirming than anything else; and this even while it actually also possesses the trappings of a crime drama (more so, in fact, than horror effort) for much of it.  As such, that whose high point may well be the genuinely interesting plus atmospheric physical structure in which much of the movie takes place is not a work I can recommend to people seriously looking for scares.  On the other hand, should you be the kind of person who would enjoy checking out a scene which had the Twins winding up in bed together (though not necessarily in order to have sex) or a few more that saw this pair of stuffed toy like personalities being bound up and put in a few tight spots, then this is one offering that can provide some thrills.

My rating for the film: 5.5

Pictures were obtained at this very cheerful site.