Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
Director Ann Hui On-wah's return to the horror genre after a hiatus of more than twenty years, VISIBLE SECRET got some unexpected pre-release publicity courtesy of a very unlikely source: HK's Mass Transit Railway. Deciding that the film's poster (reproduced on the DVD cover shown above) might scare riders, MTR officials ordered it removed from all stations. Distributor Media Asia even went one step further to placate them by omitting the scene in question from the picture. So, is this thing really that scary? Well, it may not be jump-out-of-your-seat frightening but VISIBLE SECRET is both creepy and affecting, and it is certainly rare for a HK horror movie to be blessed with the calibre of talent assembled here.
Hsu Chi. Image courtesy Mega Star.
Unable to get any girls to dance with him at a rave, Peter Lo (an effectively low-key Eason Chan Yik-shun) seems to strike gold when the pretty (albeit, decidedly eccentric) June (Hsu Chi) picks him up. Although it is clear that she simply wants to spite her old boyfriend, Peter isn't about to say no when she all but rapes him. Upon waking up, he discovers June gone and the hallway of his apartment splattered with what appears to be blood. Even stranger is the sudden appearance of Peter's elderly father (James Wong Jim), who claims to be possessed by a ghost.
Eason Chan Yik-shun (left) and Sam Lee Chan-sum (right). Image courtesy Mega Star.
After getting fired from his job, Peter reluctantly accompanies roommate Simon (Sam Lee Chan-sum) on a trip to Cheung Chau Island, where he finds June amidst a group of their mutual friends. Around a campfire, Peter tells of how a girl visiting the island tried to scare her wayward boyfriend by calling him and stating that she was about to commit suicide. Cutting her wrists only slightly, the girl waited and waited...and ended up bleeding to death when the guy did not come to save her. What sounds like an innocuous ghost story takes on a new dimension when one of the girls apparently becomes possessed. As they gradually grow closer together, June reveals that she can see ghosts -- but only out of her left eye. Not surprisingly, Peter doesnt buy it but he's fallen deeply in love and decides that such foibles are a small price to pay. Shortly thereafter, Peter's hospitalized father commits suicide and he learns that June (who works there as a nurse) was with him just before it happened. Peter begins to distrust the girl but further incomprehensible events suggest that he has more to fear from himself.
James Wong Jim (left) and Hsu Chi (right). Image courtesy Mega Star.
Working from one of the more interesting screenplays she's had in recent years (by Abe Kwong Man-wai, co-creator of the popular "date" horror series that began with 1993's THOU SHALT NOT SWEAR), Hui leaves her customary social commentary aside and plunges headlong into commercial film territory with surprising success. HK ghost movies have been appearing by the dozens in the past few years, with the occasionally effective but largely slapdash TROUBLESOME NIGHT series and Andy Chin Wing-keung's dismal "O'Clock" pictures being notable examples. VISIBLE SECRET is decidedly episodic, and comparisons with THE SIXTH SENSE are in some ways unavoidable, but Hui's movie transcends the local competition by also being a delicate and charming love story (Hsu and Chan are well-matched and do commendable work). It is also far better made and the humor (both the macabre and the throwaway) seems more ingenuous to the story and the characters. While twists are a requisite in this sub-genre, the ones here are more intricate than usual and leave one wanting to re-watch the movie, in order to see how well it plays out with the advantage of hindsight. Imagery that alternates between grotesque and beautiful, courtesy of veteran DP Arthur Wong Ngok-tai (MIRACLES, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA I & II), and atmospheric scoring by Tommy Wai Kai-leung are also major assets here, along with a solid supporting cast, including Wayne Lai Yiu-cheung, Kara Hui Ying-hung, Lau Wing (as a Taoist conman), and Cheung Tat-ming. Anthony Wong also makes a very memorable, pre-credits appearance that is better seen than described.
Kara Hui Ying-hung. Image courtesy Mega Star.
Jo Kuk Tso-lam in the scene deleted from the picture prior to release. Image courtesy Mega Star.