Brrrrr!!! The wind is certainly blowing the snow fiercely around my windows with some serious fury as I prepare for another “Shared Review” with our blogging friend Stephen over at his blog, Gweilo Ramblings. “Winter… why, o’ why do you seem to hate this wee lady so?” 😉
Anyways… This time out we’re going to be taking a peek at the recent Hong Kong/ Malay production, 2014’s “Hungry Ghost Ritual” directed by and starring Nick Cheung. As always, it’s a pleasure to welcome Stephen here to visit me at the Litterbox to share his opinions on the films we both love so well. 🙂
As always Miyuki, the pleasure is mine. As I know you love Ghost stories so much, I was hoping this one might be just up your street.
Ooooh! Ghost story? Yep, I’m soooo there! 😉 So what’s the score with this one then? Well how’s this for our synopsis: “Prodigal son Zong Hua, the long absent son of a modestly successful opera troupe leader, returns to his family after more than a decade in China on the eve of their Hungry Ghost Festival performance. His personal and professional life in tatters, Zong tries desperately to fit back into a life he’s never really been a part of. No sooner has Zong arrived, however, when a series of bizarre, supernatural occurrences start to take place. Zong’s younger sister Jing Jing starts acting up, and all the stress and pressures begin to wear on Zong’s father bringing on a heart attack. With the inexperienced Zong now in placed in charge, the rest of the troupe turn against him and are quick to blame his lack of understanding for their rituals and traditions for their problems. Problems which soon escalate into creepy and unexplainable horror for them all…”
Ahhhh… now that all sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it? Looks like we’re in for a pretty much by-the-numbers exercise in Chinese horror, but hey… sometimes one of these films goes in surprising directions, so with my fingers crossed… and the popcorn popped… let’s settle down and give it a watch, shall we Stephen?
Indeed we shall. I’ll cross my fingers too, even if it makes this Super-Size Cola hard to hold. 🙂
So… if you’ve spent as much time watching Asian ghost story movies as a certain crazy lil’ Catgirl, then you are already familiar with the hungry ghost festival, a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in Asian countries in the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It’s a time similar to other festivals around the world… the Catholic “All Souls’ Day”, the hispanic “Día de Muertos” and the like. In general, it’s a time when the living pay homage to their deceased ancestors, who during such celebrations are also believed to visit the living. For good…. or for ill. Naturally that can also be a perfect backdrop for some creepy horror movie ideas….
I agree, it is certainly a trope I am very familiar with, an easy setup maybe, but sometimes that stops a bunch of awkward scene setting…
In “Hungry Ghost Ritual” we are introduced to the particularly Chinese notion that the living don’t just honor their dead ancestors during that time, but may also seek to placate them as well… in this case by throwing them a performance to entertain them and keep them occupied rather than roaming about causing ghostly havoc. Our hero… Zong Hua (played by Nick Cheung) returns to the opera troupe that his family has managed for generations after a particularly nasty failure in his personal fortunes. His ill-fated business venture in China has left him financially ruined and destroyed his chances of moving up and away from his father Zong Tian’s (played by Lam Wai) desire to have him follow him in managing the family troupe. It’s humbling and embarrassing for him to return… being viewed with nothing but contempt for it by his step-sister Jing-jing (played by Singaporean TV actress Cathryn Lee) and nearly everyone else in the troupe. When the stress of it all proves too much for Zong Tian and he suffers a massive heart attack, Zong Hua is thrust into the ill-fitting role of manager as the ensemble prepares for their annual traditional show for the Ghost Festival.
This brings on a lot of old resentments and quite a bit of strife that has the dramatic potential to make for a reasonably acceptable drama without any of the ghostly elements that get slathered on top of things to make our film. In a way… perhaps that’s the real problem with this film. It didn’t need to be a ghost story at all…. and when it goes there, it really doesn’t do anything particularly novel or new with the plot to distinguish itself from any other reasonably made horror film.
Yes… yes… the horror elements do work. They just didn’t surprise or shock me in any novel fashion. We get all the usual ones… sister Jing-jing gets possessed by the spirit of another opera performer from 40 years back karmically aching to relive the horrible tragedy that killed her and her own troupe of actors all those years before in a terrible fire. There’s a love interest for Zong Hua in the form of Xiao-yan (played by Annie Liu) who spends much of the film wavering back and forth between possible lover and possible friend and almost certainly possessed herself by one of those doomed ghosts from long ago. Throw in some flashbacks to that earlier group of actors where we get ageing opera diva (played by Carrie Ng) struggling to keep her place as leading lady from being stolen away by a younger sexier starlet both on stage and in the manager’s bed. It’s all pretty much a “been-there-done-that” kind of story. Well… the ghostly stuff herein is pretty good… if a bit uninspired… although if you are waiting for our present day troupe to meet their end in a fiery climatic inferno, you’ll be somewhat disappointed….
I have to agree. I actually thought all the horror stuff was very well done, and I enjoyed the way the film mixed up some of the classic Asian style ghostly goings on with some more modern Western Horror influences. But as you say, it doesn’t really offer up anything particularly new. As for the flashbacks, well to me they mostly felt like they belonged in a totally different movie. There’s a balance between giving the viewer enough to understand what is happening, and then simply failing to explain things on any level. You might get away with it in something more art-house, but not in a simple genre horror flick.
While the cinematography… done almost completely in Malaysia… is competent and very well done, I’d have to say the acting is mostly underwhelming with fairly poor chemistry between the leads here, particularly in the case of the romantic sub-plot between Nick Cheung and Annie Liu’s characters. Most everybody else hits their marks in what are very stereotyped roles written in very cardboard fashion. All in all, this one is a bit of a murky muddle that teases but ultimately… at least for this wee lady… fails to deliver.
I thought the film looked fine, Cheung clearly has hired people that know what they are doing. The acting however is fairly dire. The lack of chemistry between Cheung and Liu is painful at times. This isn’t helped by the script which is forcing her character in particular to flip-flop around.
With that, I supposse I’d give this one a 2 “Meows” out of 5. Sad, but true. I wanted to like it more, but once all is said and done, I really couldn’t. Oh well…. they can’t all be winners now can they? The HK Region 3 DVD is acceptable as usual with well done English subtitles and a nice 10-16$ US pricetag for anyone wishing to give it a look-see, but basically I’m thinking you could just as easily wait to catch it when it hits a release in your particular part of the world…. and it will. It’s easily digested and just the sort of bland uninspired film that always seems to get a wide release while other, more interesting and edgy films don’t. Sigh….. 😦
I reckon 2 out of 5 is about right. Maybe I liked it a touch more than you because it wasn’t utterly horrible, and my movie watching can be a little more encompassing than yours (it did the basics of what a horror film should do for me, and I didn’t get angry about anything). Actually the HK DVD is fairly nice, with a whole extra disc of extra features. I’d be surprised though if it makes it outside the Region 3 world.
Ahhhh well. I guess that’s pretty much it. Perhaps Stephen and I will fare better next time out. One can always hope. But… as always, it’s been nice to share my lil’ space here at the Litterbox and until next time “Meow, Meow!!” 🙂
Our hunt goes on for the ultimate Miyuki and Stephen movie, one which both of us can raise more than a “meh” to. Still the company and the invite are the important thing, so here is to next time!
Ooooh!! And before I forget… there’s always the “flipside” of things, so to speak, with a peek at Stephen’s deepest thoughts on this one HERE!! Take a look for all the stuff I might just have missed… 😉
Yep…. wouldn’t let you all go without a Trailer o’ Gentle Visitors! Here ya go!