Time to drop by Singapore for our latest Halloween haunting… this time it’s a look at the recent 2013 horror goodie “Ghost Child”. Looks like a scary one too, judging by the Trailer…. lots of creepy “killer baby” revenge from beyond the grave. Just the sort of thing a certain Catgirl loves… 😉
Our synopsis for it goes as follows: “Having saved her from a band of Indonesian bandits, widower Choon announces his plans to marry Indonesian-Chinese woman Na. She is mysterious in nature and says little about her background. Amongst the items she brings with her is an urn, which contains the eponymous “Ghost Child”, otherwise known as a toyol. The toyol causes much distress to Choon and his estranged teenage daughter, Kim. Among other strange happenings, family photographs get torn apart and Kim’s grandmother gets injured for no apparent reason. At first suspecting her dead mother’s ghost for causing these, Kim soon learns about the toyol and attempts to get rid of it, but her efforts are to no avail. Could she save her family by ridding this unspeakable evil?”
Ooooh!! The Toyol… the “little baby thief/ ghost in a jar”. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these around the ol’ Litterbox. Somehow I’m thinking this film’s going to be lots less about the laughs generated by a little green goblin and a whole lot more about the creepy evil things that dead baby fetuses in a jar can get up too when they get really pissed off. Guess we’ll find out, eh Gentle Visitors? 😉
If years of watching Asian horror movies have taught this lady anything it’s that babies are dangerous… especially dead babies. Sure they giggle at night and sound all cute and harmless… and plenty of evil Shamans will even tell you all about the riches they can bring those who own one of these lil’ “rugrats in a jar”…. but that’s just to lull you into a false sense of security, make you let your guard down, and then…. WHAAAMMM!! They go all spawn of Satan on your butt and before you know it, they are crawling around on the ceiling… attempting to kill your family… and possessing someones womb for reasons which can only make things go from bad to worse. Worth the dubious possibility of wealth and good fortune? Nawwww….personally… this wee lady’ will take a pass on that idea. 😉
If only the people in most of these films were quite that lucky. Like poor Choon (played by Chen Hanwei). As our film starts he runs across a literal “damsel-in-distress”, pretty Chinese/ Indonesian woman Na (played by Carmen Soo) at the mercy of three armed thugs on a lonely stretch of road in the dead of night somewhere waaaay out in the boondocks of rural Indonesia. Under some pretty “Scooby Doo” circumstances, he manages to face down those robbers and save the day… but all those watching know that they were really scared away by whatever they saw just behind Choon… something so scary that three men armed with parangs and knives would flee like their butts were on fire from just a glimpse of it. Not that we get to see it, mind you…. “Ghost Child” likes to play coy with it’s monster and it’ll be a lot further along in the movie before we actually get a good look at our film’s title ghost.
Next we jump to Singapore… and Choon has returned home newly married to Na after years spent in Indonesia following the death of his first wife. His first awkward task? Why introducing the sweet, shy Na to his estranged Mom and daughter in the hopes that he can patch things up between them and make a new start as a family again. Problem is… that’s a task scarier and more thorny than dealing with any kind of supernatural menace. His mom (played by Cecilia Heng) immediately starts with the casually bigoted comments about poor Na and questioning her rights to be there. (Grrrrrr!! That first dinner scene… with Mom sniping away at Na… and the underlying feeling that being only “half Chinese” made her in some way only “half human”. I’ve encountered a little of that bigotry over the years as a half Japanese/half Caucasian and it always hurts a little… making you feel like an alien thing. 😦 ) I immediately felt sympathy and kinship with Na… even if I suspected she was hiding some dread secret that would end up causing everybody misery.
But it’s Choon’s teenaged daughter Kim (played by Jayley Woo) who turns out to be our story’s main protagonist. Life’s been cruel to her as a girl growing up without a mother and a father completely absent just when she needed him most. She’s angry.. isolated… and tormented at school by the other girls over her domestic situation. The last thing Kim wants is a woman to show up out of nowhere and suddenly try to replace her real mom. Yep… she’s instinctively hostile to poor Na from the start. That makes her the prime target for our spirit as it tries it’s best to scare the living crap out of her at every opportunity.
However, the bulk of our story unreels from this point forward as Kim begins to try to deal with this new familial upheaval while she and her grandmother start experiencing all those crazy things that start occurring when a ghost gets up to it’s haunting games. You know what this wee lady is talking about. Weird noise at night… things disappearing or being moved around… and the not so subtle feeling that somebody is there, just out of sight, always watching you.
Kim comes to believe it’s the spirit of her dead mother… upset at Choon’s new marriage.A reasonable assumption I suppose, especially since the ghost is initially harmless… even helpful, aiding her with some of her problems at school. It helps her survive nearly being dropped from her classes by helping her pass a crucial test to improve her grades. Also… it makes efforts to seek revenge against her chief tormenter, the leader of her swim team, Tiffany (played by Vanessa Lee). But it isn’t long before that helpful interest turns cruel and even dangerous.
Choon, for his part, completely dismisses all this, thinking that his mother and Kim are projecting their own feelings of betrayal over his and Na’s return into these coincidences. Still… he humors them with a journey to his wife grave to placate her spirit. Problem is…. it’s not her doing all the spooky things. Yes, Na knows exactly what’s really going on…. but she’s definitely not ready to spill the beans yet.
So we eventually see all those spooky tricks getting deadlier and deadlier… first grandma is smacked around and given a stroke that paralyzes her, then Choon’s business partner who’s been dodging him to avoid buying out his shares of their mutual company is killed after trying to rape Na resulting in Choon inheriting the entire business. Even snotty Tiffany learns the hard way that messing with Kim over the attentions of hunky school heartthrob Troy (played by Russell Ong) is only going to result in some fairly painful ghostly punishment. Hmmmm? Mean and helpful? Our ghost has some serious problems deciding whether it’s here to help the family… or kill them all off.
Well… it’s “Spoiler Time” for us, because I can’t really go into much more without ruining things. Although you probably have a fairly good idea what’s going on by now anyway and where it’s all headed. I know I certainly did by this point in the movie. Yeah. Our ghost is Na’s child… stillborn after a beating she received at the hands of her brutal first husband back in Indonesia. Being a grade A piece of crap, he naturally stole the baby’s corpse and had an Evil Shaman bind it to a jar to create a Toyol… a thieving ghost… so he could steal from his neighbors and cheat at gambling. Na figures that out, but not until those gamblers find out the secret and show up to chop her husband into bite sized bits one evening…. the same night they chased Na down on the road right before Choon happened along to “save” her. She’s still got that jar…. after all, crazy thieving demonic ghost or not… it’s still her baby and she just can’t let him go.
But… at least now that Choon’s got the entire company, and the family has money and can move away to a new house…. seemingly leaving behind all their troubles once and for all. Na is pregnant with a son…. Kim is no longer the school outcast, with better grades and a cute boyfriend…. and even manages to patch things up with scarred and repentant Tiffany, as the only person at school to feel sorry for her now that she has tumbled from her position as “top girl”. Even grandma, although still paralyzed, comes home to be with them again and is slowly recovering. So things are all good right? Ummm… nope. Asian ghost stories rarely let you off that easily. 😉
The Toyol is nothing, if not a jealous ghost.It doesn’t want a new baby in the house, and after Na throws his jar away into the sea to end the haunting, it returns and makes it’s displeasure known in the most brutal and vicious of ways possible. It kills granny…. ripping the poor lady’s head clean off, before going on a rampage. It batters Choon into unconsciousness and causes Na to miscarry before turning on the one family member it really seemed to like… Kim. She’s in for it too… but ultimately Na shows her love for Choon and the family she can’t stay with by lulling the fiendish little ghost into calming down and going away with her…. far far away from Choon and Kim… where it can be just the two of them forever. It’s a bittersweet way to save them, but ultimately it’s all she can do, still unable to turn away from her child even now.
Our movie’s end finds Choon and Kim together, but alone… finally father and daughter once more but at a terrible cost while Na has returned to Indonesia along with the Toyol to live a lonely life of solitude. Not a satisfying ending, but a fit one for such a tragic tale.
So how did this one go over for me? Not too badly… although the story was pretty standard and predictable. There were a few problems here and there. For one… although the ghost spends it’s time giggling like a child and has the habit of terrorizing grandma by possessing a doll, everyone assumes it’s the spirit of Choon’s wife for over half the film. No kidding. She’s never portrayed in the movie at all…. but unless she was an imbecile or mentally defective in life, it’s hard to believe that her family would mistake this ghost for hers. But yet they do. Another troubling thing is with the film’s editing, which seems abrupt at times, cutting from one scene to the next seemingly without any attempt to maintain continuity. A particular example is the death of Choon’s business partner, which happens off screen after one of those abrupt cuts and is only shown in quick cuts later. At first that seemed like the rather zealous scissors of the Singapore Film Censors at work, but it happens far too often for that to be the explanation for all these. It doesn’t make the film unwatchable, but it does detract from the overall experience quite a bit.
The acting and cinematography are pretty good, and Jaylee Woo is especially good in the part of Kim, both likable and angst-y in equal measure without being overboard with either. Carmen Soo gives a sympathetic turn as Na. Even though much of the tragedy falls square on the shoulders of her character, both Carolyn and I ended up feeling real empathy for the situation she was trapped in, a real necessity to keep you rooting for our lil’ family to somehow survive all this evil stuff, even though you somehow know they ultimately won’t.
With all that, I can easily give “Ghost Child” 3 “Meows” out of 5. I saw this one on the Malay DVD release, done widescreen in PAL format on a Region 3 disc. The English subtitles were good, although a few odd bits popped in now and again, still perfectly acceptable especially at the more than nice pricetag of 8-9$ US that Malay DVD’s turn up with when you find them. Yep. This wee Catgirl’s pretty happy overall with seeing a scarier version of the Toyol for a change and I think many of you might be as well.
There’s a Trailer filled with oodles of killer baby shenanigans and this Catgirl’s tracked it down just for you! Enjoy!