|A mainland horror film? How did they pull this off? The answer: not easily, and the stretch marks show in The Curse of the Deserted. Director Law Chi-Leung (Koma, Kidnap) returns from wherever he's been to helm this based-on-a-novel horror-romance, which possesses decent ideas but only so-so development and execution. Shawn Yue stars as Gene, a writer who publishes a novel about "the Village." No, not M. Night Shyamalan's Adrien Brody-terrorized community — this village is a remote mansion haunted by the jilted bride Rouge, who decided to curse all lovers when she was burnt alive some years back.
Gene's tell-all on the subject makes him a minor celebrity, but there's a dark side. First of all, someone claiming to be Rouge harasses him through MSN, apparently pissed because he's profited from the Village and Rouge's story. Also, a group of young students decide to chase the legend of Rouge, heading to the Village against Gene's advice to investigate the area Scooby Doo-style. Finally, Gene's ex-girlfriend, Gigi (Kitty Zhang) turns up, and she has her own bone to pick with Gene because she's a descendant of the people who own the Village, plus the Village was supposed to be their little secret. Then people start dying. Finally!
The question of “do ghosts exist” comes up in Curse of the Deserted, and the filmmakers partially explain the mysterious goings on with scientific reasons. Basically, there's some weird electromagnetic field at the Village, and interacting with it can cause a person to experience illusions and even a fatal madness. Or something. This is all pseudo-intelligent mishmash meant to distance the narrative from frowned-upon supernatural content, but the film goes there anyway. Despite the scientific explanation, people still suspect that Rouge may be cursing people. So what do they do? They flock to the Village in order to confront Rouge, thereby dooming themselves to the fatal madness as well. If horror films were populated by smart people, they'd end after half an hour.
Curse of the Deserted isn't very scary. The film is rife with red herrings and portentous threats that are never really addressed, and when the electromagnetic disease or whatever gets thrown out there, stifling a yawn may be difficult. After all, who cares if people are dying from a fictional disease? That’s hardly frightening, and neither are things like bats, a person's shadow or a teenager suddenly appearing just to say "hi." For actual horror content, Curse of the Deserted is rather thin. The film has horror-like details but nothing that qualifies as genuinely chilling or frightening. Ultimately, the only real scares are the filmmaker-induced ones, like shock sounds and sudden appearances by people with long black hair. Oddly, the film's trailer shows sequences of a knife-wielding, possessed-seeming Kitty Zhang stalking the halls wearing red. Perhaps-a-spoiler-warning: that never happens in the film, meaning it's just a marketing smokescreen. Curse of the Deserted: the all bark, no bite horror movie.
With the horror angle reduced, the film has little left to offer. Law creates occasional tension, but beyond the occasional deaths, there are few payoffs. At least there's romance. The whole "curse of love" thing implies that those who are truly in love will escape the curse — ergo, there should be some teary emoting from Kitty Zhang and Shawn Yue where they reaffirm their love, thereby saving one (or both) from Rouge's evil. There's some minor success there, but it's only that: minor. Easily diverted kids or teens may get a kick out of Curse of the Deserted's mild scares and confessions of love, but discerning filmgoers should steer clear of this pedestrian product. Fans of China censorship should get an extra kick out of the film's paces, though; besides serving up misleading marketing materials and multiple twists, the film comes through with a final twist that's so cliched and uninspired that it could elicit groans. SARFT should be happy but audiences? Just bored. (Kozo 2010)