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Demi-Haunted

           

(left) Eason Chan and (right) Yumiko Cheng and Joey Yung in Demi-Haunted.

Year: 2002

 

Director: Patrick Leung Pak-Kin  
Producer: Kim Yip Kwong-Kim  
Cast: Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Joey Yung Tso-Yi, Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Yumiko Cheng Hei-Yi, Jacky Man Chin-Sui, Kate Yeung, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Lau Shun, Christine Ng Wing-Mei, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Arthur Wong Ngok-Tai, Poon Hang-Sang
The Skinny: Creative, amusing, but also disjointed and overstuffed to the point of distraction. There's some genuinely funny, and even affecting stuff in here, and it's possible to be entertained. However, total satisfaction doesn't appear to be in the offing.
Review
by Kozo:

     Eason Chan continues his streak of good, but sometimes questionable performances with Demi-Haunted, one of the year's more creative and yet strangely constructed films. Chan is Buster, a tumbler in a Cantonese Opera troupe, who's at odds with the lead actor (a blustery Anthony Wong) and occasionally the troupe's director (Christine Ng). Things get hairy when Buster is haunted by the ghost of Giselle (Joey Yung), a former opera diva who specialized in male roles.
     At first Buster is simply freaked, but eventually he comes to understand Giselle's plight. It appears that she was killed by some signage when she performed for the first time as a female. It was windy and a bamboo sign fell and smashed her head. Her untimely demise also split her from her beloved, a gambler named Chang (Nicholas Tse). She wishes to see Chang again (shades of Rouge), and wants to stage a special performance to get him to show.
     However, she needs Buster to finish things for her. It seems that he's her current incarnation, which makes possessing him easier. He's not so quick to help though, even though she does her best to make things difficult thanks to some of that wacky ghost-human shtick. Giselle drags Buster around and makes him do embarrassing stuff, which proves to be an amusing sight because nobody else can see Giselle. It's only Buster doing wacky stuff without any real provacation, even though he seems to be resisting the whole time. Those moments give Eason Chan a chance to display his physical comedy skills, and he performs admirably.
     Still, even that embarrassment doesn't sway Buster, but there is one thing that can. Buster is enamored of Chloe (EEG starlet Yumiko Cheng), the daughter of a professional gambler, who charms Buster and the audience with her amusingly off-kilter but still somewhat charming personality. She takes a shine to Buster despite his dopey ways, though sometimes she has to set him straight by beating the crap out of him. The scenes where she slaps Buster around and knees him in the groin are a welcome sight to anyone who saw Eason Chan in Lavender.
     Buster wants to win Chole in return for performing, and Giselle agrees to help. The hope is that their bargain will give everyone what they're looking for. Most importantly, Giselle will get a chance to finish what she started, a lesson which is frequently taught on Saturday morning television. Buster needs to be reminded of that lesson too, and that lesson is supposedly ingrained in the heart of all Cantonese opera. At least, that's what we're asked to believe. Real-life Cantonese Opera performer Jacky Man shows up to impart this lesson in his role as the troupe's proprietor. He also has to make peace with his wife Christine Ng, and daughter Miko (Kate Yeung), who looks to inherit the troupe. Plus there's the a red lantern which shows up to add closure to the ghost portions of the film, and some philiosophy on why one must complete a stage performance. It seems Buster's performance will do more than free Giselle's soul; it'll also bring him love, placate the ghost world, and deliver hope to children worldwide. And, if you can make any sense of what I've just written then you deserve some sort of cash bonus.
     The problem with Demi-Haunted can be summed up in four words: what does this mean? Ostensibly, the film possesses a plot not unlike the Stanley Kwan classic Rouge, only with more comedy and a healthy helping of EEG popstars (aside from Yumiko Cheng, both Eason Chan and Joey Yung belong to EEG). After that, it's all questionable. Aside from the main storyline, we get a massive subplot courtesy of Miko, who appears at first to be a teenage girl Friday to Buster. As played by Kate Yeung, she's one of the film's more believable characters, and manages to carry her emotional scenes exceptionally well. Except this is supposed to be a film about Eason Chan and Joey Yung, right? And if so, why does Miko's storyline take precedence at film's end? It's almost confusing, as it seems that right up to that point the movie was supposed to be about something else. And, if this whole "love of Cantonese Opera" message is supposed to be where the film's headed, why doesn't it seem convincing?
     The fault here isn't really with the performers, who are uniformly interesting if not always subtle. And, it's not Patrick Leung's direction, which is sometimes more sure-handled than it needs to be. No, the problem here is the story, which provides too many details and too much information to no tangible benefit. Aside from being Buster's chosen love, Yumiko is also a terrific gambler who pukes after doing so (?). Lau Shun shows up in a deliriously over-the-top cameo, which is both funny and strangely out of place. And, the subplot involving Christine Ng and Anthony Wong really seems to head nowhere. Is this film about Cantonese Opera? Or is it about letting go? It's really hard to tell, which doesn't help Demi-Haunted at all.
     At the very least, the film does possess some worthy parts. The production of the film is wonderfully sound; both the art direction and cinematography are well above average for HK standards. Also, the emotions on display can be affecting, be they from Kate Yeung (who recently was nominated for Best New Artist), or Eason Chan (who shows remarkable emotional range). Yumiko Cheng shows some burgeoning screen presence, and Joey Yung handles her role relatively well despite her still somewhat raw acting ability. And, there's something beguiling about the film's very atmosphere which makes it easy to want to like it. At the same time, however, it doesn't cohere very well. It's apparent that the filmmakers thought they were making "something" here, but figuring out what that "something" is goes beyond my patience. It's not hard to find some small joys in Demi-Haunted, but connecting to the film is more difficult than imagined. (Kozo 2003)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Widesight Entertainment
Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
 
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