The Strange House

I’ve been kinda exited about this one for a little while.  Whilst one could be uncharitable and say it is the meeting of one of the guys who never makes films as good as “The Eye” and the little girl who played a little boy in Stephen Chow’s “CJ7”.  However, here at t’Ramblings we prefer to have gotten rather excited about a ghostly story from Danny Pang which has the rather wonderful Xu Jiao front and centre.  Longterm readers will know I have beaten the drum for many of the films post-Eye by the Pang Bros., and Miss Xu is a favourite here.  Will it be a match made in heaven, or a marriage from hell?

Ye-ze (Xu Jiao) works in a hairdressing salon, and is having issues paying her rent, as the long awaited cheque from her father in America just isn’t turning up.  She also seems to have a stalker at work.  However, eventually the man, Jun (by Eddie Cheung – remember I told you he would be in my next review), turns out to have an offer for her.  It appears that Ye-ze bears an uncanny resemblance to a family friend, Rong, and he is willing to pay her to go back to the family home and cheer up Rong’s grandmother who is really rather ill.  This seems like easy money, so Ye-ze takes Jun up on his offer and the pair go deep into the countryside to stay at the family mansion.  Ye-ze meets the family, who treat her rather strangely, but the grandmother is obviously really happy to have her about.  It starts awkward, wearing a dead girls clothes and staying in her room, but things get worse when Ye-ze starts being visited by the ghost of a young boy,  and yet the family and Jun seem to be not only unaffected, but actually quite annoyed.  One ghost soon becomes three when two older ghosts turn up.  Ye-ze works out these are Rong’s brother and Parents, who seemingly also died in the same accident.  And maybe She needs to work out what happened to Rong to put these spirits to rest, and maybe she is being possessed by the spirit of Rong.  Something certainly isn’t right in this strange household…. but will Ye-ze work it out in time?

Torn is what I am about this one.

On the one hand, it’s very solid.No, that’s damning it with feint praise.  It sets up things well, and has some genuine scares, and whilst it doesn’t have anything terribly original going on, it mostly does what you want from this sort of ghost story.  It exudes atmosphere, and of course no-one does petulant teen as good as Xu Jiao.  To be frank, the girl has been pissing away her talent in some fairly average stuff since “Starry Starry Night”.  Pang knows how good she is and sensibly decides to pretty much use her in every scene.

The rest of the cast are totally fine, if maybe unexceptional, and possibly not helped by the twist that the plot is holding back from us.  The are all acting like twats (if I am being charitable), so it is hard to empathise with them.  Veteren Eddie Cheung does his best, but he is a little guilty of being Mr Exposition at times.

Danny Pang of course knows how to operate a scary movie, and this one like I say has some nice moments.  I didn’t see it in 3D, but I do intend to one day as he is clearly trying to use the entire depth of the screen (as opposed to just making thing poke out of it), and I am keen to see how the moments using the fixed camera attached to Xu work out.  He also manages to keep the film tight, both in terms of the 88 minute running time, as well as the general pacing.  Flashbacks are kept to a minimum, and he can’t stop himself popping in a montage.  Yes, it isn’t “The Eye”, but my word it is a lot better than that films’ sequels.  It isn’t however as good as “In Love With The Dead”, which is still my favourite Danny Pang movie.

But I did say I was torn.  And in a way this carries on from my little treatise in my previous review about horror films in Chinese cinema.  Pang himself has been quite open about having to work in these restrictions, but the biggest problem is that we know that this simply isn’t going to be a ghost story.  There aren’t things that go bump in the night.  Our lead actress simply isn’t going to be possessed from the beyond.  And therefore, we all know exactly what is going on the minute Jun tells her she looks like someone who died a year ago. Spoilers ahead now.  And if I am going to have a go at “Twilight Online” about using mental illness as a crutch for supernatural events, I have to be equally hard on “The Strange House” for having the same failings.  So once the truth about events is exposed, I am afraid underwhelmed is the only emotion I am able to feel.

It’s hard to be mean at about the final result.  It is tight, well acted and exudes the correct feel.  So it is getting a Recommended.  But someone in the Chinese film industry is surely going to have to find a way of making Ghost stories where the end result isn’t because our protagonist isn’t quite right in the head.

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