One of the major Hong Kong Directors I have never really looked at (though I know her by strong reputation) is Anne Hui. So what better way to start my exploration of her by going back to my own roots and looking at an interesting little Ghost Story from 2001?
“Visible Secret” follows the story of basically unemployable (as he can only do one style, and even then not too well) Hairdresser Peter (Eason Chan), who meets the rather strange Goth girl June (Shu Qi) one night at a Nightclub. She drags him away in order to escape from her boyfriend and they embark on a one night stand. Confused by proceedings, he is delighted to meet her again a few nights later, where she appears to actually be friends with some mutual acquaintances. Events with a friend who is possessed by a ghost lead June to confess that she can actually see Ghosts (but only through her left eye), and Peter and her join a growing romance with a sort of Ghost-busting set of adventures where they convince various lost souls to leave the living alone. However, one particular Ghost (Anthony Wong), who we met in the prologue, is looking for both his head and revenge for those responsible for his death. And it turns out the Peter’s father and June herself may be connected to this particular event. Can Peter save the day? Will he and June live happily ever after? And just what is it that makes June quite so strange most times we meet her?
If I was not experienced in the ways of Asian Cinema, I think I would have probably found this movie to be really strange and unbalanced. It mixes some really rather nasty little scenes (like a headless body stumbling around, and a child murder), with some hilarious comedy, and seems to be heavily influenced by such films as “The Sixth Sense” and “The Eye”. But as I am a little better at reading things, what I actually get out of this is a very clever, multi-faceted little movie, that is actually rather super.
I am growing to really like Eason Chan. I love the fact he is not super-handsome, and is really the perfect everyman. Events in this film almost wash over him, making him easily identifiable with the viewer, he learns things as we do. Not only that, but he is also pretty much a failure so far in his life – he can’t hold down a job, he is always broke, he has distanced himself from his family – but he also is just a rather decent guy that will do the right thing, if he is forced to. Reactive rather than proactive, but it is a refreshing change. Shu Qi is as lovely as ever, showing that she would make as attractive Goth as she would a Model, and she plays a role that has a little more than meets the eye very well. She is a little bit Sassy, a little bit kooky, but also very caring about those she sees in danger.
In terms of comedy, there are moments here and there to lighten the mood, including probably the funniest sequence I have seen for months, where Peter and his friend jump into a Taxi. They gabble on for a couple of minutes, before asking the taxi driver why he is still parked. It then become clear he is only stopped as he has two flat tyres, but has not been able to tell them as they have just not stopped talking. Contrast this with some of the scarier stuff, like the possession of Peter’s rather overweight female friend (in which the tone really changes), and a superb sequence where a young boys mother is under possession from two different spirits. It is not only well acted and frankly disturbing, but there is an additional layer that will only become clear upon a second watch.
There is nothing clever in terms of camera-work, this is not style fest, but rather somewhat naturalistically filmed, although with a very subdued palette highlighting the encroachment of the spirit world in upon 2001 Hong Kong. I like this approach very much as it kept the focus on the characters and the story, rather than attempting to play on the emotions of the viewer by clever or even cheap scares.
I loved the almost anti-climactic ending of the main story, but more interesting was the final scene reveal. Now I have read a couple of reviews that hated it, and that it almost cheapened the power of the rest of the film. For me though, it was quite obviously signposted, and felt utterly right. Hard to say more without spoiling, but it makes a lot of some of June’s behaviour make perfect sense, it was the kind of twist ending that did NOT come out of nowhere, and actually makes the film worthy of being watched again. If you can though, please try and avoid reading the IMDB credits before seeing the film, as they do sort of give things away.
I wasn’t expecting much from this, but came away pleasantly surprised by a film that is somewhat derivative, and very much inspired by the films being made at that time. But it does have enough about it to make it stand out, and if you want to experience that throw-everything-in-a-bowl-and-mix-it-up-to-see-what-comes-out that pretty much sums up Hong Kong film making in this era, then you couldn’t hope for a better example. Strong performances, smart script, a couple of disturbing moments – lets call this one Recommended.