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
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
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 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)