It has been a pretty bad year for movies as far as I am concerned this year. There have been a handful of really good ones, but on the whole I have been disappointed with many new releases. However, I was not prepared for what is possibly the worst film I have seen this year, when I started watching the big Mainland Hit of the year – “Mysterious Island”.
Where to begin? Well lets have a little look at the story? After a little reasonably spooky scene in the past, we join our cast in the present day. 8 young pan-Asians are taking part in a Reality Show, which involved them going to a desert island, and in pairs race to find some kind of location which will earn them a million dollars. The boat crashes, and they find themselves (along with the cameraman and the presenter of the show) trapped there without food or water, and only one copy of the map! Eventually they realise they are on the site of an old leper colony, and when they start finding themselves dying and disappearing, one by one, they need to find out if they are the victims of a vengeful ghost…. or if the murderer is indeed one of our cast?
This is just awful. Other than a reasonable (if hackneyed) final 5 minutes of tension, there is nothing about this film to like. It is directed badly, acted horribly and the story just fails to hang together. Things happen on screen that seem to make no sense. It’s like the characters are in one film, but we are watching another. Things are said that lead nowhere, or just don’t match what we have seen.
I knew to expect the worst when our presenter announces that this is going to be about “…the survival of the fitness”. And yes, she says this in English as clear as day, it was not me mishearing the word ‘fittest’, and the subtitles agree. In fact why these two characters speak in stumbling English all the time, even to each other makes zero sense, but then the cast are all speaking in Mandarin, Cantonese, and in one case Japanese. They may be utter ciphers, but at least they know their languages.
And yes, when I say ciphers I mean it. Other than one character, I have non idea who any of these people are. We learn nothing about their names, their motivations. The just seem to be pretty and vapid people. Character development is zero, and the film even starts killing them off in such a way that the ones that might have some interest are taken off the table first.
This film made a bucket load of money in Mainland China. And I can see why – they won’t often get to see a film like this, but god do I wish they had seen a better example. It is really hamstrung by itself though. Chinese censors are pretty strict on violence and nudity, but more importantly in this film, the very mention of the supernatural. So despite lots of talk about ghosts, one character seems to be only there to say “There are no ghosts”. Despite the creepy music, the wails and screams, the mysterious events. Even when the truth is revealed, it really does not explain anything that went on in the previous 90 minutes. What sunk their boat? What was the old man in the wheelchair at the TV studio going on about? Who was making at least 3 characters violently fly around in the air?
Now, I have read some reviews that make a lot of apologies for this film. Saying that we should applaud the clever way the film makers have gotten around the limitations of censorship, that actually it is all tongue in cheek, and everyone is really having a load of fun – that in fact it is deliberately trying to be a good “bad” movie, evoking the craziness of 1980’s Hong Kong cinema. Now, if the film was actually constructed well as a piece of cinema, I might be able to go with that. But it is utterly awful at every level. There is nothing to take away from this. Even at the fundamental level, it isn’t scary, it isn’t funny, and for the first time in a long time, I want my time back.
You will notice I have not named any actors – some of this is because I really don’t know who any of them are, and I have no idea what half the characters are even called. But also it is to protect some of them, who I have seen before, doing MUCH better work.
Devastatingly awful, avoid!