Two things made me doubt his film from the offset. Firstly, let’s face it, Hong Kong cinema isn’t in the best shape at the moment (feel free to discuss, but you’d have to be insane to think this is a golden period for the area right now). Secondly, with an eye on a Mainland audience and release, there’s no way it could actually be a straight up ghost/demonic possession film could it? But, one lives in hope, so let’s find out!
Top psychiatrist Sharon (Kara Hui) has a successful career, but is somewhat failing as a parent. Her teenage daughter Jenny (Yanny Chan) has returned from a period studying in Canada a changed person – petulant, rude, and frankly embarrassing. It starts to affect Sharon’s personal relationships and work, and despite her rational mind rejecting the possibility of the supernatural, she eventually takes up the offer of a concerned neighbour to have a Catholic Priest (Kenny Wong) perform an exorcism. Things go ok for a while… but turns out the Priest might not have had all the relevant information to complete his task.
First time director Chan Pang-chun hasn’t exactly mined new territory here. Whilst it is interesting to see a film using Catholic rather then Buddhist/Taoist religious ideas (and Hong Kong has a thriving Catholic community, though I suspect most of them are filipino immigrants), so much of the film feel unoriginal, and certainly inspired by ‘The Exorcist’. Luckily, the film has plenty of plus points – it looks fantastic, has some superior effects, and is blessed with two strong performances. Kara Hui is a Hong Kong legend, and whilst not having a great script to work with, she has gravitas and depth that stops the film feeling silly. And whilst Yanny Chan might be a newcomer to the screen (she’s one of a popular cantopop girl group), she actually shows a mix of creepiness and cuteness that belies her lack of experience.
There’s some great moments too, such as when Jenny publicly urinates at a posh charity auction. In fact you could say it has the feel of a Danny/Oxide Pang film (possibly because of the involvement of their longtime collaborator Curran Pang, and the Bangkok house used for the location), with some nice creepy ghostly moments along the way. We even get a smart added twist (I worked out what ‘come back from studying in Canada’ really meant fairly early on, but the film was able to squeeze a little extra out of the revelation).
The problem is really with the pacing. It is only 85 minutes long, but it takes us an hour to get to the (first) exorcism, by which time the audience has clearly gotten the idea that Jenny isn’t right. It means the bulk of the ‘action’ happens in a fairly compressed 25 minute period. This means Kenny Wong’s Priest has no real character work, he’s just a guy with a dog-collar and a briefcase of holy water. So it avoids any real theological issues, or any sense of sacrifice on his part.
‘Daughter’ isn’t horrible. In fact it has plenty going for it, it just takes a long time getting to the good stuff. What gets it a Mildly Recommended though is finally a Chinese Ghost Story that actually accepts the supernatural has turned up, that isn’t pandering to the Mainland market, and isn’t reliant on the star power of Juno Mak or Nick Cheung to make it break even locally. If Chan Pang-chun can find something with a touch more originality there is hope for the future. And maybe Yanny Chan is a potential future starlet?