Visible Secret


In the end the story doesn’t add up and in truth it really doesn’t seem to mean very much – but getting to that point of realization is an intriguing cinematic journey. Director Ann Hui paints a visually stunning morose picture of Hong Kong that is claustrophobic and creepily atmospheric. The city seems shrouded in death, in nostalgia, in shadows, in questions. In ghosts. There are ghosts everywhere. Hong Kong is a city of ghosts – living and dead.
Hsu Chi and Eason Chan
Hui isn’t going for scares with this film – she is creating an atmosphere of mystery, doubt and unease. What is real and what isn’t – what are dreams and what isn’t  - who is alive and who isn’t – who is what they appear and who isn’t. Layers of uncertainty slowly emerge in the film as it almost dissolves into a palette of muted surrealistic colors, of distorted nighttime scenes and unnerving restricted space. The cinematography (Arthur Wong), the set designs (Silver Cheung), the eerie music (Tommy Wai Kai Leung) all contributes to a wonderfully seamless technical achievement. Simply watching this film is a great pleasure from an aesthetic perspective.  The story though often feels like it is simply present as a clothesline to throw atmospherics and flourishes around and when you are finished and examine what you have witnessed there are gaping holes of logic that weaken the impact of the film considerably.
The actors are almost overwhelmed by these atmospherics. They do a fine job though with Eason Chan and Hsu Chi totally dominating the screen time. This is one of Eason’s better jobs though in truth he need only go through the film with an expression of confusion on his face. Hsu Chi’s role is much more complex and fairly subtle as she morphs into various personas. She does a solid job I thought with only a few momentary lapses into her girlish side. And for those who appreciate her warbling ability you will be thrilled to know that she once again sings karaoke! The supporting players do a terrific job as well – James Wong is suitably weary for his character and Kara Hui Ying Hung (in a rare dramatic role) is simply fabulous in her few minutes on the screen as a possessed mother.
James Wong and Hsu Chi
On the surface this film appears to be one of Ann Hui’s more commercial efforts and fits in comfortably with the avalanche of horror films in Hong Kong over the last couple of years. Hui is well known though for often creating a political subtext within her films and though I am not entirely sure I suspect that it is here as well. With the themes of loss of identity, loss of memory, possession and losing ones head (literally) and the search for it seem to open up the possibility that she is in truth visualizing a Hong Kong going through an identity crisis and projecting her fears of a city that will eventually lose it’s special heritage – its memories of what is was. To Hui, Hong Kong is becoming a wandering ghost searching for its past.
Guess who's lips, Eason and Sam Lee
Ghosts are everywhere and Hsu Chi can see them. One of her eyes has the power of seeing them about the city. Not that she wants to – she usually keeps that eye covered with either an eye patch or sunglasses – because they frighten her – send her running in terror. Eason meets Hsu Chi in a disco and they spend the night together. He begins to fall in love with her before he realizes the strange life she leads. He is slowly sucked into it. His father (James Wong) tells everyone that a ghost is possessing him but no one will listen to him. Soon odd occurrences begin happening to Eason – his apartment is painted red, dreams and reality start merging together, he wakes up not knowing where he is, he starts seeing dead people too. Is this all connected to Hsu Chi or rather to a horrible accident from years before in which Anthony Wong loses his head. Hui takes her time in telling the story – perhaps becoming too enamored with her sets and designs – but it is an enticing tale until it falls short in the end.
Hsu Chi and Kara

My rating for this film: 7.5



DVD Information:

Distributed by Mega Star/Media Asia

The transfer is excellent - claims to be 16:9 Anamorphic

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

9 Chapters

The subtitles are Chinese or English.

There is a trailer for this film but no others. This has glimpses of a scene that takes place on the subway system but was apparently cut because of the subway's protests that it might scare passengers!

There is a Making of section - with no English subtitles.

There is also a comic book version of some of the scenes - was this based on a comic book?